Who “Listens” to the Vedanta vAkya – ‘tattvamasi’?

[Background: This Post is a sequel to the Discussions at Q: 541 with regard to “Who or what is that which listens to the mahA vAkya ‘tattvamasi’ and Who really gets “It”?” My reply to that question, based on 18.114, upadesha sAhashrI of Shankara,  was that “It is the Inner Self Itself which “listens” to the Non-dual message.” Dennis and Venkat made some significant observations on this issue and I found myself inadequate to answer their points.

So, I took the liberty to refer the matter to three highly knowledgeable and well-read Vedantins who are also proficient in Sanskrit. They had been extremely kind to readily spare their time amidst their own preoccupations and to  share their views on this profound subject. Their in-depth analysis and exposition backed by authentic citations is too valuable and important to stay tucked in my files and deserve wider dissemination. Hence, I present below, as an expression of my gratitude, their Comments which will undoubtedly be beneficial to many seekers.]

Smt. Manjushree Hegde Ji (India):

You’ve chosen the toughest chapter of the toughest text!

US is notoriously difficult to interpret because Śaṅkarācārya has taken a very different approach to instructing the highest reality; a lot of great fodder for pūvapakṣin-s!

Sir, for now, I’ll just quickly note some pointers for your reference. While interpreting any text of Śaṅkarācārya’s, I usually follow this method:

Identify, in sequence,

  • (a) the statement of deliberated attribution,
  • (b) the specific erroneous ideas negated through (a), and,
  • (c) the statement that negates (a).

This usually helps me take my focus away from (a) and redirect it to (b); it helps me to stop following the trail of inquiries like, what is the process of reflection, what is the medium of reflection, what is its nature, etc. This is the line of inquiry taken up by the traditional commentators of Advaita Vedānta. This is also the reason that they end up with very elaborate theories of reflection.

This line of inquiry is to be discarded – because the pratibimba-dr̥ṣṭānta is an adhyāropa, employed deliberately, strategically, to invalidate certain specific erroneous notions. It is retracted in some other portion of the text.

While Śaṅkarācārya has used the pratibimba-dr̥ṣṭānta in almost every bhāṣya, the US is very different; nowhere else has he discussed cidābhāsa, ahaṁkāra, etc, in as much detail as he has done here.

But if (a)-(c) analysis is rigorously applied, you will find that the primary purpose of this dr̥ṣṭānta is to (1) refute “conscious” antaḥkaraṇa [buddhi, anataḥkaraṇa-complex appears to be conscious because of its purported ability of cognition/awareness. Thru this dr̥śṭānta, Śaṅkarācārya disabuses this notion; the anataḥkaraṇa only appears to be conscious because of cidābhāsa; the only really conscious entity, if it can be called that, is brahman. Here, focus is not on cidābhāsa; it is on the fact that antaḥkaraṇa is not conscious.]; (2) to differentiate distinctly the witness from the rest (3) This last point is the most difficult – in the US, he writes that the cidābhāsa is useful for tat-tvam-asi instruction; without it, it would not be possible to know the Witness. This requires a lot of elaboration. It might be easier for me to point to SSS’ own commentary (Svāmiji himself admits that this portion of the text has been extremely difficult to interpret!)

apavāda-statements are plenty (like the one you mentioned). (a) and (c) must be read together; each restricts the incorrect connotations of the other, the two work together.

(It is advisable that one should read the entire Chapter 18 in the Commentary on upadesha sAhashrI by Shri SSS. The verses 1.18.121-138 in Svāmi’s commentary (the verse numbers are slightly different in Mayeda’s) is the portion that Svāmi says has been difficult to interpret.  Here, Śaṅkarācārya seems to posit the instruction of the highest is not thru niṣedhamukha, but thru cidābhāsa.

Discussing, “Who is the śrota / who is upadeśa directed to,” (1.18.76ff..), US 1.18.110 states what US 1.18.124-129 elaborates:
इत्य् एवं प्रतिपत्तिः स्यात् सद् अस्मीति च नान्यथा / तत् त्वम् इत्य् उपदेशो ऽपि द्वाराभावाद् अनर्थकः // 
This is the way of realization that “[I] am the Existent.” And [if] it were not so ( = if there were no reflection), it would not be [realized]. If there were no medium, the teaching “Thou art That” (Chand. Up. 6.8.7 etc.) would moreover be meaningless (Mayeda).
The key lies in how we interpret the bhāṣya-vākya-s. The moment the bhāṣya-vākya-s are understood within the framework of adhyāopa-apavāda, there is a crucial shift in meaning. This is what I wanted to highlight..

These are just pointers. I’ll need time if I must reply in detail. I hope this suffices for now!

Also, if you specifically wanted to know about PTB references, this is the list (adopted from my Ph.D. thesis):

AUB (3.1.3), BSB (2.3.43-53, 3.2.18-20), BUB (1.4.7, 2.1.19, 2.4.12, 2.4.13, 2.4.14, 4.3.21), CUB (6.3.2, 6.3.3, 6.8.1, 6.16.3, 7.15.1, 7.26.2), KUB (6.5), PUB (4.9), TUB (2.6.1).

But Upadeśasāhasrī’s treatment is very very different.

PS: BSB 3.2.18-20 explicitly tells us how to read the reflection-analogy: one of the best articulations.

Shri Hishi Ryo Ji (Germany):

/* In an ongoing dialog between me and Dennis Waite, I happened to quote 18.114, upadesha sahashrI where Shankara writes that “For we have already said that the reflection of Consciousness in the intellect is an unreality like a snake appearing to be a rope and like the reflection of a face in a mirror appearing to be the face itself.” */

Reply: In 18.114, SiddhAntin counters with the (always suitable) rajjusarpa nyAya indicating AbhAsa (ANY AbhAsarUpa) is simply ‘due’ to ignorance, hence wrong/false. Why तथावोचमादर्शे ? Because aligned with SSSS Mahaswamiji’s UPS Padyabandha translation where he points here to 18.39-43 (but imho equally important is 18.43 to 18.49):

गम्यते शास्त्रयुक्तिभ्यामाभासासत्त्वमेव च | UPS Padyabandha 18.43

“And the non-existence (unreality) of the reflection (AbhAsAsattvam) is understood by means of the scripture and reasoning (in accordance with anubhava!).”

अविद्यामात्र एवातः संसारोऽस्त्वविवेकतः | UPS Padyabandha 18.45 ab

“Therefore, let transmigratory existence be nothing but nescience arising from non-discrimination (not-Self and Self).”

आत्माभासापरिज्ञानाद् यथात्म्येन विमोहिताः अहंकर्तारमात्मेति मन्यन्ते ते निरागमाः | UPS Padyabandha 18.48

“These persons, bereft of the sastrika tradition, are deluded through lack of a right knowledge of the Self and its reflection and so come to think that the ego-sense is the Self.” (AJ Alston).

Note: AtmAbhAsa is preceded by those who are deluded/confused (vimohitAH)! Hence, in accordance with 18.43 above, it is not AtmAbhAsa AND delusion/ignorance but AtmAbhAsa due to delusion/ignorance! Same applies to chidAbhAsa, sharIrAbhAsa (dehAbhAsa), karmAbhAsa, or ‘buddhyAbhAsaM manaH’/indriyAbhAsa in BGh 18.50, whatever AbhAsarUpa. IMHO, this is crucial as AbhAsatva cannot somehow coexist with avidyA (and related vAda-s). From adhyAropadRRiShTi, this should be obvious as soon as rajjusarpa nyAya is utilized.

ततोऽप्यानन्तर्यात् मनसि चैतन्यावभासता, बुद्धिसम्पर्कात् | BrUP 4.3.7 Bh.

“..next comes the Manas (mind), which catches the reflection of the self through the intellect” (Swami Mādhavānanda)

बौद्धैस्तु प्रत्ययैरेवं क्रियमाणैश्च चिन्निभैः

मोहिताः क्रिअये ज्ञानमित्याहुस्तार्किका जनाः | UPS Padyabanhda 18.68

“Deluded thus by the notions of the intellect which are produced and appear to be Pure Consciousness, logicians say that knowledge is produced.” (S. Mayeda)

Related to UPS 18.68, SSSS Mahaswami ji in Vedāntaprakriyāpratyabhijñā (p. 461) added:

आत्मनि ज्ञानादिविकारा जायमाना इव मिथ्यैवाध्यस्यते अहमि चिन्निभत्वं मिथ्यैवाध्यस्यते |

“Different states such as knowledge, ignorance and doubt, etc.(jñānādivikārā), are falsely superimposed onto the Self ‘as if’ they were modifications arising in it. Similarly, identity with Consciousness is falsely superimposed onto the ego (or mind)”  —  (AJ Alston, The Method of Vedanta, p. 427)

As Smt. Hegde already said (was that accidental? Bizarre! 🙂 I had the same term of pratibimba-dr̥ṣṭānta running through my mind) — hence to my observations Self-Knowledge (AtmaAnubhava) has nothing to do with प्रतिबिम्बं बिम्बेन ऐक्यं प्राप्नोति इति! (The reflection attains oneness/identity with the bimba).

bhAShyakAra clearly states in BSBh 2.3.50:

आभासस्य अविद्याकृतत्वात् | तदाश्रयस्य संसारस्याविद्याकृतत्वोपपत्तिरिति |

“In as much as (pseudo) appearance (i.e. AbhAsa) is a product of ignorance, it goes to prove that the transmigratoriness which is based on it must equally be a product of ignorance.” (V Panoli)

Other Pointer: BSBh. 3.2.18 but Smt. already recorded a lot.

/* Dennis’s position is that the Self is realized in the intellect where Self-ignorance exists. */

Reply: Sir, any references, slokas, in what context, and what position(s)? AFAIK and based on his books I’ve read years ago, he is well rooted in and acquainted with (contemporary) ArshavidyA Parampara approaches/explanations like Swami Paramarthananda ji’s transcripts, where “Satya-mityhA” is the primary model. To an extent, I can partly agree, because without a mind, how should one dispel a misunderstanding?

Shruti (KathaUp 2.1.11) says मनसैवेदमाप्तव्यं |

But then this sentence must be reformulated because:

(1): The Self is _already_ and _always_ ‘realized/attained/liberated’ etc. (e.g. mokShaH j~nAna-kAryam-iti upacharyate BrUPBh. 3.3.1). However, from adhyAropadRRiShTi, nothing is wrong when speaking of ‘attainment through a purified mind’.

(2): Buddhi, upAdhi-s, etc. (appear to) exist due to (Self)-ignorance. Period. Therefore, neither buddhi nor any other upAdhi is Ashraya of avidyA.

/* But to my understanding, Shankara holds that it is the Inner Self that “listens” to the mahAvAkya like tattvamasi and the intellect /ego etc. do not play a role in grokking the Non-dual message. */

Reply: The “inner Self that listens”.. not enough clear to me, I apologize. The compound “mahAvAkya” is nowhere found in bhAShya (is another topic), I’m sure, you meant vedAntavAkyAni as per BSBh. 1.1.4, etc.

As already mentioned here another reference — In mANUpkA Bh. 3.33, bhAShyakAra writes:

तेन आत्मस्वरूपेण अजेन ज्ञानेन अजं ज्ञेयमात्मतत्त्वं , स्वयमेव विबुध्यते अवगच्छति |

“By that knowledge which is unborn and of the nature of the Self is known the knowable that is the Reality of the Self and unborn. That is to say, It knows by Itself.” (V Panoli)

[SSSS (on 3.33) in his mANDUkya Rahasya vivRitiH only conforms (or basically repeats) it].

/* But then, Dennis came up with an objection. He said that, in the “metaphor of looking into a dark room through a partially-open door by holding up a mirror to reflect the sunlight into the room, the mirror itself has no light but effectively has by virtue of reflecting the sun. Similarly, the inert mind effectively has consciousness (and ability to ‘understand’) by virtue of reflecting the ‘light’ of Consciousness.” */

Reply: This metaphor seems to me like a copy/paste of AnubhUtiprakAshaH – Hindi commentary by Swami Maheshananda Giri ji (p. 979), where this example occurs. It’s a commentary on KaThopaniShad vivaraNam (94)

भासयन्ति सूर्याद्या बुद्धयाद्याश्च स्वयंप्रभम् |

किं तु भान्तं तम् अन्वेते भान्ति भासा तदीयया || (94)

“The sun and the like and the intellect, etc., do not manifest that self-luminous principle. On the other hand, they all shine following its luminosity through its light.” (Transl. G. Mishra)

(cf. तस्य भासा सर्वमिदं विभाति – “By His light shines all this” kathUP 2.2.15 / munDUP 2.2.10)

I have no idea if that helps YOU in your sAdhana Ji! 🙂

Shri Prasanth Neti Ji (U.K.):

Smt. Manjushree ji and Shri Hishi ji have given their thorough responses well supported with references. I am grateful to read through their responses. As H.H. Sri SSS ji pointed, the prakriyA is adhyArOpaapavAda. chidAbhAsa too has to be understood in the same prakriyA.

I cannot think of any other PTB references than those pointed out by Smt. Manjushree ji and Shri Hishi ji. But I will add few points in response to few statements in your email:

//// Dennis’s position is that the Self is realized in the intellect where Self-ignorance exists. ////

Statements like above come out of enquiring the locus of Self-ignorance and accepting it. I do not think intellect is seat of Self-ignorance as if that “intellect” and “Self-ignorance” are two positively existing entities and the latter resides in the former.

But taking something ‘as intellect’ and pointing at it and transacting with it by giving it a relation with Self is the very ignorance that Vedanta sets forth to remove.

//// But to my understanding, Shankara holds that it is the Inner Self that “listens”…… ////

You are correct. ‘shruti’ teaches in brihadaranyaka 3.7.23 and 3.8.11 respectively that, “He, the unheard is the hearer……no other hearer but Him” (अश्रुतः श्रोता……ऩान्योऽतोऽस्ति श्रोता) and “It is unheard, but is the hearer…..no other hearer than It” (अश्रुतं श्रोत्र…..ऩान्यदतोऽस्ति श्रोतृ). It cannot be any more clear.

//// But then, Dennis came up with an objection. He said that, in the “metaphor of looking into a dark room through a partially-open door by holding up a mirror to reflect the sunlight into the room, the mirror itself has no light but effectively has by virtue of reflecting the sun. Similarly, the inert mind effectively has consciousness (and ability to ‘understand’) by virtue of reflecting the ‘light’ of Consciousness.” ////

If the inert mind effectively has consciousness (and ability to ‘understand’) by virtue of reflecting the ‘light’ of Consciousness, then I am afraid, that is what superimposition is all about – अतस्मिन्तत्बुद्धिः !

I will recall brihadaranyaka 3.7.23 and 3.8.11 to remind, अमतो मन्ता…..ऩान्योऽतोऽस्ति मन्ता and अमतं मन्तृ…..ऩान्यदतोऽस्ति मन्तृ.

When shruti says “there is no hearer than Him”, it is to remove my own adhyAsa based superimposition i.e. individual self is the hearer. But it is not to be understood as if there is brahman which is ‘the hearer’ and something else which is ‘the heard’. When the innermost Self is taught as the Hearer in brihad 3.7.23 and the akShara is taught as the Hearer in 3.8.11, the expanse of that innermost Self and akShara (from infinitesimal to infinite) is also taught – that innermost Self is one without a second, which implies that such hearing is unlike any of the hearing that I am used to!

Moreover, in the concluding passage to brihad 3.8 Brahmana bhAShyam which starts with

अत्र अन्तर्यामिब्राह्मणे एतद् उक्तम्…..” bhAShyakAra says:

कस्तर्हि भेद एषाम् ? [If so, what is the difference among them? (between innermost Self and akshara)]

उपाधिकृत इति ब्रूमः ; स्वत एषां भेदः अभेदो वा, सैन्धवघनवत् प्रज्ञानघनैकरसस्वाभाव्यात् , ‘अपूर्वमनपरमनन्तरमबाह्यम्’ (बृ. उ. १९) ‘अयमात्मा ब्रह्म’ (बृ. उ. १९) इति श्रुतेः — ‘सबाह्याभ्यन्तरो ह्यजः’ (मु. उ. २) इति आथर्वणे तस्मात् निरुपाधिकस्य आत्मनो निरुपाख्यत्वात् निर्विशेषत्वात् एकत्वाच्च ‘नेति नेति’ (बृ. उ. ६) इति व्यपदेशो भवति ; अविद्याकामकर्मविशिष्टकार्यकरणोपाधिरात्मा संसारी जीव उच्यते ; नित्यनिरतिशयज्ञानशक्त्युपाधिरात्मा अन्तर्यामी ईश्वर उच्यते ; एव निरुपाधिः केवलः शुद्धः स्वेन स्वभावेन अक्षरं पर उच्यते

Perhaps it is hard to accept that the actionless-and-one-without-a-second-brahman can be hearer.

But when we look into dream where from its own standpoint, though it is but natural to subscribe to the experience in the form of “I heard something”, “I saw something”, but, when enquiring into the truth, the hearer and heard together sublate into hearing. Similarly, the seer and the seen together sublate into seeing. And the hearing and seeing themselves sublate into distinctionless Self (which is like homogenous lump of salt):

स्वत एषां भेदः अभेदो वा, सैन्धवघनवत् प्रज्ञानघनैकरसस्वाभाव्यात् as bhashyakara says in brihad 3.8.11 bhAShyam.

Personally, I think avasthAtraya-vicAra is undoubtedly more direct in overcoming these doubts.

Adding to this, I will also request your attention to brihadaranyaka 1.4.10 bhAShyam where, in its entirety no matter how well the purvapakshi tries to either locate the existence of a transmigrating soul or argue that the brahman (in the sentence ‘I am brahman’) is lower brahman, bhAShyakAra shows both of them to be wrong. – in the siddhAnta, there is no entity called jIva that ever really existed. brahman alone exists => jIva is not jIva but brahman alone.

18 thoughts on “Who “Listens” to the Vedanta vAkya – ‘tattvamasi’?

  1. Dear Ramesam,

    I know you will be expecting a response from me, especially after you have gone to so much trouble to follow this through. Thank you for that – and thank your contributors also.

    But I’m afraid the discussion is largely over my head and it would take me a long time to work through and understand it. As you know (or should do by now!), my own approach is to explain my understanding at a relatively low level, using reason and only expecting a moderate level of prior understanding of Advaita (without much Sanskrit!) from my readers. I then simply give the references to scriptures or Shankara, or maybe actually provide a good English translation.

    I am simply not sufficiently skilled at high-level, scholarly, Sanskrit-literate, discussions to be able to participate.

    Best wishes,

  2. Dear Ramesam,

    Thanks for this and to your interlocutors.

    I have read through it slowly, to the extent that I can. If I can summarise the gist of it:

    1. Everything perceivable – including mind / intellect / ego – is an unreal superimposition, a product of delusion / ignorance. Intellect is therefore not the ’seat’ of ignorance.

    2. The concept of reflected consciousness is a teaching tool – to explain that the mind / ego has no consciousness, and yet to account for where Knowledge arises, given that for the Self there is no duality, no action. And a tool to be subsequently sublated.

    3. The state of Knowledge, like that of ignorance or the mind, is a superimposition on the Self.

    4. When it is said that “there is no hearer than Him”, it is to refute the idea that the individual self is the hearer, rather than to positively say that Brahman is the hearer. So when Sankara says that it is the inner Self that listens, it is figurative. Actually Alston makes this clear in his translation of US 18.107: “… it is said that the fruit of the liberating knowledge accrues to pure consciousness”

    5. From the three states analysis, we see that in a dream, there is just “seeing”, and no real object or subject. And this “seeing” subsides into distinctionless deep sleep, which like Brahman is homogeneous, partless, etc.

    6. So Self-realisation is just the eradication of the erroneous ego-notion / I-thought (easier said than done!), which also implies an actionless, still (or ‘pure’) mind. This is not a ‘positive’ knowledge, but a removal of the avidya / superimposition. Removal of the superimposition necessarily implies removal of perception of subject-object and all other superimpositions. Hence Sankara says that enlightened is actionless.

    Would you concur with that? BTW, I was unaware that SSSS had written a commentary on US. Do you happen to know if it is in English and where available.


    • I have a complete list of SSSS’ publications in English (and Kannada) of 2 yrs. ago from the office at Bangalore (Karyalaya), and the list does not include the US (Upanesa Sahasri). M.

      • His Kannada (no English) translation of the Upadesha is included in the volume ‘Prakaranas’ which also includes a translation with commentary of Aparokshanubhuti and Advaitanubhuti, the latter two being often attributed to Shankara.

  3. Dear Venkat,

    Certainly easier to read and follow than the original! I agree with your points 1 – 5 but not 6.

    I would rather say that (on Enlightenment) it is realized that the ‘ego-notion’ is just that – a notion, or false identification with the mind. Subsequently, the mind still operates (necessarily, since the body persists until expiry of prArabdha) but there is the knowledge that ‘I’ do not act.

    It is a ‘positive’ knowledge, acquired from shravaNa-manana. It is not ‘removal of avidyA’ because there is no positive thing called ignorance. AdhyAsa still takes place in the sense that we still perceive the world, but it is known that this is the explanation.

    I also did not know SSSS had written a commentary and would be interested in seeing that.

    Best wishes,

  4. Dear Dennis and Venkat,

    Thank you both for being the inspiration behind this Post.
    Needless to say, this write up has generated quite a bit of interest at the FB groups devoted to Shankara Advaita. I was pleasantly surprised to receive a private message from Dr. Greg Goode communicating his appreciation of the contribution by the three Experts.

    Let me begin my response to you with the easiest of your questions. Yes, SSSS did write a commentary on US; but I think it is available in Kannada. Smt. Manjushree Hegde has been kind to send a copy of the pdf (574 pages!) to me. I can share a copy, if you like. Unfortunately, I am also not familiar with Kannada.

    I felt that it is a fantastic and easily understandable six point summary by Venkat. All of it looked good to me.

    Regarding the objection raised by Dennis about the 6th point:
    I feel there is a need to examine the issue with a fine comb. One question that haunts me is the following:

    Does a seeker who successfully “Realized” the Self (i.e. post-Gnosis), who found complete identification with the Self, still continue to take vicarious responsibility for the body, its assets/liabilities, actions and interactions and relationships? Or would be completely detached with the body, a la the snake that slid away after shedding its slough – vide 4.4.7, BUB? Will s/he be not asnaga akarta ?


  5. Dear Ramesam,

    You keep making this point but have still not explained exactly what happens after the snake sheds its skin, metaphorically speaking.

    It is the jIva that gains Self-knowledge, thereby ‘attaining the already attained’. I.e. now knowing that ‘I am Brahman (and always have been)’. But, as Shankara points out in several places, the body-mind continues until exhaustion of prArabdha. Knowing that ‘I am Brahman’, I must nevertheless remain ‘responsible’ for the body in the sense that it is not going to be able to continue without me-the Self enabling it to do so.

    In the context of your metaphor, the snake-skin would have to continue to exist as a living entity, without the snake that inhabited it, until it dies. Needless to say, that would not make any sense.

    Best wishes,

  6. Dear Ramesam and Dennis,

    Doesn’t Sankara address this in BGB 2.21, where he refutes the idea that the enlightened man continues to act (/take responsibility) for the body whilst knowing that such activity belongs to the body and not to the Self.

    Vedantin: “Renouncing all actions by thought, the self-controlled man rests happily in the nine-gated city – in the body – neither acting nor causing to act.” (v. 13).
    (Objection) :-Here the word ‘thought’ implies that there is no renunciation of the acts of speech and body.
    (Answer) :-No, for there is the qualification, ‘all actions.’
    (Objection) :-The renunciation of all mental acts only is meant.
    (Answer) :-No. Since all acts of speech and body are preceded by mental activity, they cannot exist when the mind is inactive.
    (Objection) :-Let us then construe the passage [‘rests in the nine-gated city, in the body’] thus : Neither acting nor causing another to act, he, the disembodied soul of the enlightened man, deposits (sam+ nyas) all activity in the body (i. e., knows that all activity belongs to the body, not to the Self) and rests happily. Let us not, on the contrary, construe, as you have done, ‘he rests in the body,’ etc.
    (Answer) :-No: Everywhere (in the sruti and in the smriti) it is emphatically asserted that the Self is immutable. Moreover, the act of resting presupposes a place to rest in, whereas the act of renunciation does not presuppose it. And the Sanskrit verb sam+nyas’ means ‘to renounce,’ not‘ to deposit.’

  7. Dear Venkat,

    The body is inert. How can it do anything unless Consciousness is enabling it to do so?

    Best wishes,

    • Just wrote to Dennis saying that US (Upanesha Sahasri) is not listed in the catalogue of SSSS’ books of two yrs. ago at the karyalaya (office) of Bangalore. Regards,M.

  8. Dear Dennis and Venkat,

    Thank you for your interventions on an important point.

    Dennis writes: “You keep making this point but have still not explained exactly what happens after the snake sheds its skin, metaphorically speaking.”

    No, Dennis. I did express my understanding on this topic of “mukti” many times — the latest being the ongoing Series on ‘sadyomukti’ (Link: https://www.advaita-vision.org/sadyomukti-instant-liberation-2-3/ )

    To recapitulate briefly:

    1. mukti is being free from the inexorable cycles of birth and death (or metempsychosis or transmigration).
    2. It could be either progressive (krama mukti) that involves a stop-over in the loka of one’s favorite deity or “instantaneous” (sadyomukti – right away in this body).
    3. The former is the result of following “saguNa brahmopAsana” and the latter is the result of contemplating on attributeless brahman (1.4.7, BUB).
    4. The criterion that distinguishes the two is given at 4.4.6, BU – which says that the latter’s (sadyomukta’s) organs do not depart at the time of death of the physical body (न तस्य प्राणा उत्क्रामन्ति ब्रह्मैव सन्ब्रह्माप्येति ॥ — na tasys prANAh utkrAmanti, brahmaiva sanbrahmApyeti).
    5. There is no doubt that Shankara distinguishes these two types of mukti as we can understand from his bhAShya at 2.6.4 & 5, kaTha, wherein he exhorts us to attain the ‘sadyomukti here itself’ because, as he says, the krama mukti is wrought with more procedural hazards and difficult to attain.
    6. In the case of ‘sadyomukti,’ the “realized” seeker immediately loses all attachments – including that of the body and its relationships etc.
    7. In the case of ‘krama mukti,’ the seeker travels either in his/her subtle body or an AtivAhika sharIra (see chAn and Brihat) to the loka of his/her deity. His/her final attainment of aikya with brahman is tied up with the liberation of the saguNa brahma of that ‘loka.’.
    8. What 6.14.2, chAn refers to is about the body of a mukta who follows the kramamukti route – that is to say s/he is the one who goes by the adhyAropita (superimposed) creation being present.
    9. IOW, as Shanakra says at 4.1.4, BSB (I think) and also 4.3.14, BSB, a sense of ‘me’ still lingers as long as there is a body and a sense of kartrutva is retained till the body falls.
    10. Shankara also clearly says that one has not attained perfect Non-dual understanding so long s/he still ‘sees’ even a hairbreadth of difference – vide 4.97, GK bhAShya and 4.3.20, BUB. Hence, we cannot strictly call him/her a mukta right here and now.

    I hope the above clarifies the matter.


  9. Dear Dennis,

    You raised the question (addressed to Venkat): “The body is inert. How can it do anything unless Consciousness is enabling it to do so?”

    I am certain that Venkat will respond to it. But permit me to also interject, because, the question could pertain to the observations I have made in here in this column.

    First off, we will not have to discuss the functioning of the body in the empirical dualistic time-space-causational field.

    The question needs then to be viewed from the perspectives of
    krama mukti and sadyomukti.

    Both shruti and smRti as well as the commentaries of Gaudapada and Shankara provide us with extensive guidelines and clues with reference to the functioning of the body in the case of a krama mukta. Broadly speaking, Gaudapada’s advice is at 2.37, GK. He states that the mukta will be a calAcala Niketa – having his/her abode in the Self (largely) or in the body (when the minimul needs of its maintenance arise). Further, we have ample guidance from BG and BGB – like at 4.22, BG – about its needs for food and clothing etc. Shankara discusses many issues related to the body post-jnAna at BUB also.

    But the most important point to bear in our mind is that such questions become non sequitur in the case of a “sadyomukta.” For, leave alone a body, even the field of its operation, viz, the world, does not exist for a sadyomukta, s/he being brahman Itself with NO SECOND thing ro ‘experience.’ If one still feels the presence of a body and or a world connected with it, his/her “realization” is suspect.

    Often, I find many seekers/teachers confusing the issues in understanding “naishkarmyasiddhi” vis mukti. Therefore, let me humbly submit for your knowledgeable consideration the following:

    I propose that there are two grades (levels) in “naishkarmya siddhi” (NS). IOW, everyone that achieves naishkarmya siddhi is NOT equal.

    In fact, bhagavat pAda himself suggests the two levels!

    Level 1: S/he has attained the nivRtti mArga (losing the sense of kartrutva and bhoktutva – vide 4.21-4, BGB) but has not attained “sadyomukti.”

    Level 2: S/he is a perfect paramahamsa samnyAsi(n) having attained “sadyomukti.”

    The above distinction of levels in NS is brought out by Shankara himself when he writes at 18.49, BGB:
    (i) “One is said to be free from duties from whom duties have departed as a result of realizing that the actionless Brahman is his Self; his state is naiskarmyam. That siddhi (perfection) which is this naiskarmya — is naiskarmya-siddhi.”
    (ii) “This phrase means ‘achievement of naiskarmya’, that is, achievement of the state of remaining established in one’s own real nature as the actionless Self —which is different from the success arising from Karma (-Yoga), and is of the form of being established in the state of **immediate Liberation.**
    (Trans: Sw-G).


  10. Dear Ramesam

    RE jivanmukti vs sadyomukti

    I’m not really conversant with the path of saguna Brahman, and I would assert that Sankara predominantly refers to nirguna Brahman in discussing the path of Knowledge.

    In BSB 3.4.51, he says Knowledge may arise in this life or next, depending on the obstructions from one’s prarabdha. In BSB3.4.12, he says liberation is the result of Knowledge, and that there can no superiority in forms of liberation, unlike Knowledge which may have arisen “late or promptly”.

    Similarly see US chapter 4. Nowhere in US does he refer to gradual or immediate realisation, which is surprising if that was his held position.

    With regard to BGB18.49, Sankara is just giving two different interpretations of that BG verse (use of “Or”), rather than showing two different types of liberation.

    I hope that I am not off-piste here?



  11. Dear Venkat,

    You say: “I’m not really conversant with the path of saguna Brahman,”

    Please see at 9.1, BGB; 6.2.15, BUB; 5.10.6, 8.15.1, chAnUB; etc. + many places in BSB.

    ” and I would assert that Sankara predominantly refers to nirguna Brahman in discussing the path of Knowledge.”

    I think so too.

    “In BSB 3.4.51, he says Knowledge may arise in this life or next, depending on the obstructions from one’s prarabdha.”

    As Shankara explains at Brihat, it depends on the relative strength of the Knowledge and the factos that were causal for the present body.

    ” In BSB3.4.12, he says liberation is the result of Knowledge, and that there can no superiority in forms of liberation, unlike Knowledge which may have arisen “late or promptly”. ”

    No, my suggestion is never that there are “varieties” in mukti. brahman is One only. But the shedding of the not-Self can be instantaneous or with a stoppage at the ‘loka’ of the devotee’s favorite deity.

    “Similarly see US chapter 4. Nowhere in US does he refer to gradual or immediate realization, which is surprising if that was his held position.”

    Please appreciate that the “upAsana mArga” (with one stop-over) is called as progressive. It does not mean incremental.

    “With regard to BGB18.49, Sankara is just giving two different interpretations of that BG verse (use of “Or”), rather than showing two different types of liberation.”

    No, “liberation” is one only – no different types.
    The two differing interpretations seem to connote two different scenarios. I could be wrong too! Just flying an idea.


  12. Dear Ramesam,

    You may not be familiar with the greeting ‘How are you?’ in the UK (I don’t know if it is used in the US). It does not expect a literal answer. A typical response is “Fine” or ‘Usual” or even “Yes, how are you?”. If the respondent began a long litany about their health, the questioner would try to remember to greet that person differently next time. Indeed, in the north of the country, the greeting is very often abbreviated to ‘Hiya!’, and the greetee simply responds ‘Hiya’ and both are happy.

    I presume you appreciate why I am telling you this! I often ask a simple, very logical/reasonable question which is almost rhetorical. And I am really looking for a simple response of ‘True!’ or maybe one or two simple, reasoned sentences of denial. I am not expecting or wishing for a long, Sanskrit laden, point-by-point refutation with lots of references.

    The reason why I do this is because I see a simple illogical statement and am pointing this out. As you know, I am usually in the process of writing a book and do not want to divert into long investigations and discussions on a topic that is not related to what I am currently thinking about but will take up a significant amount of time. I.e. to put it simply, I read most of the posts made to the site but do not always wish to participate in any discussion that is triggered.

    Note that this is NOT to say that I do not appreciate that you do this. You clearly spend lots of time and effort researching and digging out quotations. This is excellent and a really valued contribution to the site and help to seekers. So don’t stop!

    But, in the case of my question to Venkat: “The body is inert. How can it do anything unless Consciousness is enabling it to do so?” or effectively the same question to yourself: “What happens after the snake sheds its skin, metaphorically speaking?” I was simply making the point that inert things require the presence of Consciousness in order to ‘do’ anything. Both of you seemed to be denying this to be so.

    All I was expecting in return was a rueful apology (some hope!) or, as I say, a simple sentence or two to respond. Something along the lines of “Yes, but Ṥaṅkara deals with this problem in XYZ bhāṣya 1.2.3. Consciousness is still ‘enabling’ action because…”

    Hope you understand my position and accept it happily! Next time this is likely to happen, I will try to remember to begin my comment with “Hiya Ramesam’!

    Best wishes,

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