What Is Spiritual Enlightenment?

(I am republishing an answer that I wrote in Quora)

The word ‘Enlightenment’ can be defined in many different ways. We have so many words in different traditions which are synonymous with the word ‘enlightenment’.

The list of words are endless and the definitions are endless too. Some people exaggerate it, some people understate it, some people say that there is no such thing called enlightenment while the majority of the world’s population haven’t even heard of it.

First, let me describe enlightenment in terms of what disappears. Deep down in people’s minds, there is an underlying dissatisfaction with the way things are. People want many things to be different from the way they actually are. There is a craving for becoming something that one is not and there is a resistance to the way things are. Everyone is moving towards a goal, a destination that is in the future. The hopes of arriving at that destination seem to give some solace and if those hopes and dreams are threatened, we tend to suffer. This burning uneasiness and dissatisfaction can be likened to a fire that is burning. The extinction of this fire is enlightenment. The word ‘Nirvana’ means extinction.

There are also two other words ‘moksha’ and ‘mukthi’, which literally mean ‘liberation’. These words refer to how enlightenment feels like.

A typical human being is bound by various things. He is bound by his own past intentions. He is bound by his beliefs. He is bound by the opinions of other people.

But deep inside the heart of every human being, there is a longing to become boundless and expansive. We try to accomplish this by accumulation; we accumulate knowledge, possession, and experiences hoping that these accumulations will make us boundless.

But these very accumulations cause further bondage. Now you have to protect them because losing them will essentially mean losing yourself; because you derive a sense of identity from these accumulations. A typical human being is actually in a self-made prison. But the saddest part is that majority of the population don’t realize that they are in such a prison.

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I have heard a quote by some anonymous person which goes like this:

“One of the greatest mental freedoms is truly not caring what anyone else thinks of you”..

Imagine the kind of freedom you will get when you no longer worry about what other people think about you. And, also imagine the kind of freedom you will get when you are no longer afraid of losing anything. Imagine the kind of freedom you will get when you no longer worry about future and past! What is usually called as enlightenment is the greatest freedom ever. It is not only a combination of all kinds of freedoms that I just talked about but it is also a freedom from the sense of a separate self. It is a permanent freedom from the story you have about you. Once a person is enlightened, he feels like a huge load has been taken off of his shoulders. There is a sense of an immense freedom which is priceless. It literally feels like escaping from a prison.

Once J. Krishnamurti asked his audience if they wanted to know what his secret was. Then he revealed his secret in just one sentence. He said, “I don’t care what happens”…

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Simply put, this is enlightenment. Nothing ultimately matters and the whole life becomes a play or a game.

When we play a game with our friends, we play it without any seriousness. Even though we make sure that the rules of the games are followed and that we do what we are supposed to do in the game, we don’t lose our sleep over it (unless we are playing in a tournament). Playing your role in life as if you are just playing a game is the greatest sense of freedom. Enlightenment naturally makes you to not to care about the end result of whatever you are doing. At the end of the day, nothing ever matters. That doesn’t mean you will be irresponsible. You will just enjoy what you are doing rather than being focused on results. Your actions will be driven by intrinsic motivation.

Whatever I have said so far, sounds quite logical. But I haven’t touched the core yet. The core and the essence of enlightenment is realizing that you as a separate person or entity is an illusion. You create a solid sense of self inside your mind and you define the boundaries of that self physically by your body and mentally by your story.

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But science and spirituality tell us that there is no such solid, consistent self. This doesn’t mean that your body and your mind doesn’t exist. But a sense of self that you derive from your body and mind is just a deep-rooted belief. Since you have this belief for such a long time, you don’t even recognize that it is a belief. This may even sound absurd or unacceptable to you simply because you have lived with this belief so long. We have built layer upon layer on this belief which makes us very difficult to see through this belief.

Someone asked a question in Quora before. The question was “Can an atheist believe in spiritual enlightenment? “. The word ‘believe’ here is a bit odd.But this question comes from an assumption that spiritual enlightenment is somehow related or tied to religious beliefs. But in reality, an enlightened person is an upgraded atheist.

Let me elaborate. The only thing that an atheist doesn’t believe in is the existence of a personal deity, a creator God who answers your prayers. But an atheist may still believe that his next door neighbor is a jerk and his boss is an a**h**e.

An enlightened person, on the other hand, doesn’t believe in anything. He doesn’t even believe that he is separate from the existence. Once the sense of a separate-self dissolves, you realize that you are existence itself. All the boundaries between you and the world simply disappear. You cease to exist as a person but you continue to exist as the existence.Realizing that you are not an entity separate from existence is enlightenment. It is not just realizing this as a fact but realizing it in your actual moment to moment experience.

This is not to say that enlightenment is a special experience or an altered state of consciousness. When you are living a life as a liberated person, you simply experience the reality without any duality. The reality is felt in its purity without any distortions. Your life then becomes free-flowing, conflict-less, guilt-free, fearless, peaceful and fulfilled. Nothing is lacking anymore at the absolute level. There is a sense of innocence and genuineness in your moment to moment experience. It is quite ordinary then how enlightenment is described or thought of.

So, what causes this illusion of separate self or duality? Left-brain interpreter is the culprit.

The left brain interpreter refers to the construction of explanations by the left brain in order to make sense of the world by reconciling new information with what was known before. The left brain interpreter attempts to rationalize, reason and generalize new information it receives in order to relate the past to the present. The concept was first introduced by Michael Gazzaniga while he performed research on split-brain patients during the early 1970s with Roger Sperry at the California Institute of Technology.] Sperry eventually received the 1981 Nobel Prize in Medicine for his contributions to split-brain research

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If you just look at the above picture, one thing is clear. You left brain engages in things which require categorization. Your right brain specializes in helping you to see everything as a whole.

Dr. Chris Niebauer, a neuroscientist writes in his book ‘The Neurotic’s Guide to Avoiding Enlightenment: How the Left-brain Plays Unending Games of Self-improvement’ about the left brain interpreter.

Let me quote a few lines from his book:

“The left-brain interpreter is categorical, it creates division outwardly and inwardly, so let it do its job, let it do its thing. “

“Again, there is the interpreter created category of “me as I am” vs. “me as I want to be” which are both just thoughts bouncing around in the skull. So, ironically, if you are trying to improve yourself, you can’t. The notion that your self needs improving is an interpretation and we are going around interpretations. There is an irony in most bookstores called the “self help” section. I might suggest renaming this as “Books that reinforce the illusion that the left-brain interpreter can be what it isn’t free of itself.”

“The interpreter also creates and sustains our collection of categorical thoughts called our beliefs.”

It is this left brain interpreter which also creates the duality. It categories your body and your story as a ‘me’ that is separate from the existence.

You can read more about it here: Shanmugam P’s answer to Is spiritual awakening a myth?

Spiritual enlightenment is going beyond all the dualities. It leads one to resolve all the internal conflicts and to feel one with everything. It removes the idea that there is a separate entity inside which has to enhance itself for fulfillment. The left brain may still continue to categorize things, but they are not solidified in our consciousness and we are not urged to protect those solidified entities.

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The Difference between Buddhist Enlightenment and Advaita Enlightenment

(I am republishing an answer that I wrote in Quora for the question ‘What is the difference between Buddhist enlightenment and Advaita enlightenment?’)

If you are in a prison and want to escape from the prison, you can do it in many ways:

1)You can break the walls and escape.

2) You can climb the wall and escape from it.

3) You can attack a guard in the prison, put on his dress, deceive others and somehow try to escape from the prison.

Once you have come out of the prison, you feel liberated. Is there any difference in the feeling of liberation based on how you escaped from the prison?

If you fall in love with someone, you would say to that person, ‘I love you’. A Frenchman would say ‘je t’aime’; A German would say ‘ich liebe dich’. A Spanish guy would say ‘te amo’. Is there any difference in the love based on the way it is said?

What they call as Nirvana in Buddhism and what they call as Moksha in Vedanta are one and the same. The methodology, the approach and the terminology used may be different. But the liberation is the same.

Enlightenment is nothing but liberating yourself from the prison of clinging to the mind and the body and deriving your identity from it. As long as you are just body and mind, you are limited. Once that identification is completely destroyed, you are boundless. Then you are beyond all dualities.

I have written two blog posts explaining why Buddhism and Vedanta are one and the same:

Buddhism and Vedanta are the Same – A Detailed Comparison

Which Philosophy Personally Appeals More to You, Buddhism or Advaita Vedanta?

I recently wrote a book titled ‘The Truth About Spiritual Enlightenment: Bridging Science, Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta’ in which I have put together the essence of the ancient teachings, how they evolved historically and what psychology says about certain principles that are exactly the same as what these traditions say.

Enlightenment is the destruction of the distinction between the observer and the observed. But the first step lies in clearly understanding the distinction between the two. In the process of understanding it, you would intentionally, clearly and correctly discriminate between the observer and the observed. The final step is the merger of the two. When the observer, the observed and the act of observing all become one, the duality disappears. This is enlightenment. And, this is the same regardless of where the guidance comes from and how you are guided.

Which Philosophy Personally Appeals More to You, Buddhism or Advaita Vedanta?

(This is a repost of the answer that I wrote in Quora for the same question)

Both point to the same truth!

I have noticed that many people don’t agree when it is said both are the same, because they are only looking at both of them in philosophical level. When it comes to ultimate reality, no matter what words we use, they can be always misleading.

I am talking from my own experience. Oneness with the rest of the existence is a living reality for me. But I will back up my statements by quoting both Vedantic and Buddhist scriptures.

The main source of suffering in our lives is caused by identification. We get identified with our mind, our body, our thoughts, our emotions etc. This identification of mistaking something that is not Self as Self is termed as Avidya or ignorance. Ignorance causes us to think that there is a separate individual self which needs to be protected and enhanced.

In other words, we feel experientially that we are separate from the rest of the world. This separation causes us to crave for fulfillment. That is why Buddha said craving is the root cause of suffering. It is Avidya, the ignorance which causes craving. Buddha is talking about the immediate cause and Vedanta is talking about the original cause.

Some people will object to this by saying that Buddhism doesn’t say that there is something eternal. First of all, when you realize that time itself is an illusion, you will also realize that eternity is only an idea. Buddha was more specific and straight forward, while Vedanta is little compassionate and gives you something that your mind can grasp.

When anyone asked Buddha any metaphysical questions such as ‘Is there anything eternal’, Buddha was silent. It is called Noble Silence .He talked about the impermanence of aggregates, but what we call in Vedanta as absolute reality is not one of the aggregates. It is not anything that is objective. It cannot be put into words. But both Vedanta and Buddhism has actually hinted about this absolute reality with striking similarity.

See the below examples:

Vedanta:

“It is this Akshara (the Imperishable), O Gargi, so the knowers of Brahman say. It is neither gross nor subtle, neither short nor long, not red, not viscid, not shadowy, not dark, not the air, not the ether, not adhesive, tasteless, odourless, without the sense of sight, without the sense of hearing, without the vital principle, mouthless, without measure, neither interior nor exterior,. It eats nothing, nobody eats it.”

– Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 3-8-8.

Buddhism:

“There is that dimension, monks, where there is neither earth, nor water, nor fire, nor wind; neither dimension of the infinitude of space, nor dimension of the infinitude of consciousness, nor dimension of nothingness, nor dimension of neither perception nor non-perception; neither this world, nor the next world, nor sun, nor moon. And there, I say, there is neither coming, nor going, nor staying; neither passing away nor arising: unestablished, unevolving, without support [mental object]. This, just this, is the end of stress.”

– Buddha (in Nibbāna Sutta: Unbinding (1))

Buddha directly talks about something that is eternal too, but he uses the word ‘unborn’:

There is, monks, an unborn— unbecome — unmade — unfabricated. If there were not that unborn — unbecome — unmade — unfabricated, there would not be the case that escape from the born — become — made — fabricated would be discerned. But precisely because there is an unborn — unbecome — unmade — unfabricated, escape from the born — become — made — fabricated is discerned

– Buddha (in Nibbāna Sutta: Unbinding (3))

So, why did Buddha reject Vedas when Vedanta says that Vedas are the only authority?

We need to take Buddha’s time into account. Buddha lived sometime around 800 BC- 600 BC. It was during those times when many rishis were able to realize that there is something beyond the benefits that was got from mere rituals..Vedic rituals only focused on materialistic benefits that people could enjoy in three worlds. They were never about ultimate reality. That is when two great upanishads, Brihadaranyaka upanishad and Chandgoya upanishads were compiled. It must have taken a century or two; Buddha started talking to people at the same time period. So, we can safely conclude that when Buddha was alive, upanishads were not a part of Vedas.

This will raise many objections. Because, many people believe that Vedas are eternal and infallible. Even Shankara believed so. But, consider the following verses from Brihadaranyaka upanishad and the commentary from Shankara:

From chapter 6, section 4:

Verse 6: If man sees his reflection in water, he
should recite the following Mantra : ‘ (May the
gods grant) me lustre, manhood, reputation,
wealth and merits.’ She (his wife) is indeed the
goddess of beauty among women. Therefore he
should approach this handsome woman and
speak to her.

Shankara’s commentary:

If perchance he sees his reflection in water, he
should recite the following Mantra : ‘(May the gods
grant) me lustre,’ etc. She is indeed the goddess of
beauty among women. Therefore he should approach
this handsome woman and speak to her, when she has
taken a bath after three ‘nights.

Verse 7 : If she is not willing, he should buy her
over; and if she is still unyielding, he should
strike her with a stick or with the hand and
proceed, uttering the following Mantra, ‘I take
away your reputation,’ etc. She is then actually
discredited.

Shankara’s commentary:

If she is not willing, he should buy her over,
press his wishes through ornaments etc.; and if she is
still unyielding, he should strike her with a stick or
with the hand
, and announcing that he was going to
curse her and make her unfortunate, he should ·proceed,
uttering the following Mantra : ‘I take away your
reputation: etc. As a result of that curse, she comes
to be known as barren and unfortunate, and is then
actually discredited.

The above verses show how totally male dominative the society was those days.. Even though this doesn’t have anything to do with enlightenment, this example shows how one should not take everything just because it comes from a scripture or a person who is regarded as an authority.

And I don’t think that such infallible and eternal upanishads can advice someone to beat his wife if she doesn’t agree for sex.

You may say that these were later interpolations. But if that is the case, how could we trust Vedas in the first place?

But I know that Vedic verses such as Nasadiya Suktha and almost all upanishads have immense wisdom. We have to see them as collection of various poems composed by different people, instead of seeing them as infallible and eternal scriptures. I know that it is very difficult for many Indians to accept, because we are deeply blinded by pride and confirmation bias.

So, Why did Vedanta say that Vedas are only pramana (means of knowledge)?

Let us talk about three different methods of acquiring knowledge in general. (Vedanta uses six, but let us talk about three important ones here)

  1. Direct experience
  2. Inference
  3. Testimony from an authority.

In our daily life, we can get to know about many things through direct experience and inference. But we would never know the path to end the suffering unless someone tells us, simple!

So our ancient Indians selected the Upanishads as the only reliable authority to teach us the path towards liberation. It is just a standardization made by humans to avoid any conflict. And according to the social structure that prevailed those days, instead of relying any random person’s words as authority, it was reasonable to accept Upanishads as authority.

But we live in 21st century now. We are aware of things like confirmation bias and we are more keen towards human rights. While we do appreciate and show immense reverence to our ancient scriptures, it is nothing wrong in changing certain things to suit our modern society.

Also, Vedanta uses a certain teaching method called Adyaropa Apavada while Buddhism teaches directly and precisely. Vedanta is poetic where as Buddhism is empirical. Buddhism gives you the raw truth but Vedanta offers to you with added sweets and flavors. The only problem in Vedanta is that people may get stuck with the words and concepts.

You can find more details in my post here where I have included some additional points: Buddhism and Vedanta are the Same – A Detailed Comparison

If you are looking for a great spiritual authority to confirm the validity of Buddha’s message, then I will quote some of the words from Bhagwan Ramana Maharishi:

Disciple: Research on God has been going on from time immemorial. Has the final word been said?

Maharshi: (Keeps silence for some time.)

Disciple: (Puzzled) Should I consider Sri Bhagavan’s silence as the reply to my question?

Maharshi: Yes. Mouna is Isvara-svarupa.Hence the text: “The Truth of Supreme Brahman proclaimed through Silent Eloquence.”

Disciple: Buddha is said to have ignored such inquiries about God.

Maharshi: And for this reason was called a sunyavadin (nihilist). In fact Buddha concerned himself more with directing the seeker to realize Bliss here and now that with academic discussion about God, etc.

Buddhism and Vedanta are the Same – A Detailed Comparison

Buddhism and Vedanta are two big schools which have dominated the spiritual world till date.  Among many schools which have existed in the past, only these two have made a great influence all over the world and still continue to exist. But they seem to be contradictory to each other in many ways.

But based on my own experience and based on what I have read, these two schools only seem to differ because they use different conceptual languages. They also have different teaching methods. But the essence is the same.

When it comes to Vedanta, Prasthanathrayi, consisting of main Upanishads, Brahmasutras and Bhagwad gita is  the authority. In Buddhism, Tripitaka, consisting of Vinaya Pitaka, Sutra Pitaka and Abidharama Pitaka, is the source of all conceptual details. When you go through the scriptures with an open mind and with the support of your own spiritual realization, you will see that both are essentially the same.

Both schools talk about the cessation of suffering. The process of the cessation of suffering is called Moksha in Vedanta and Nirvana in Buddhism. Now let us see how these two schools define the nature of this liberation and the ultimate truth:

Vedanta

“It is this Akshara (the Imperishable), O Gargi, so the knowers of Brahman say. It is neither gross nor subtle, neither short nor long, not red, not viscid, not shadowy, not dark, not the air, not the ether, not adhesive, tasteless, odourless, without the sense of sight, without the sense of hearing, without the vital principle, mouthless, without measure, neither interior nor exterior,. It eats nothing, nobody eats it.”

– Brihadaranyaka Upanishad  3-8-8.

Buddhism

“There is that dimension, monks, where there is neither earth, nor water, nor fire, nor wind; neither dimension of the infinitude of space, nor dimension of the infinitude of consciousness, nor dimension of nothingness, nor dimension of neither perception nor non-perception; neither this world, nor the next world, nor sun, nor moon. And there, I say, there is neither coming, nor going, nor staying; neither passing away nor arising: unestablished, unevolving, without support [mental object]. This, just this, is the end of stress.”

– Buddha (in Nibbāna Sutta: Unbinding (1))
Do they sound similar? Yes, Because they talk about the same thing.

Now consider the following quotes:

There is, monks, an unborn— unbecome — unmade — unfabricated. If there were not that unborn — unbecome — unmade — unfabricated, there would not be the case that escape from the born — become — made — fabricated would be discerned. But precisely because there is an unborn — unbecome — unmade — unfabricated, escape from the born — become — made — fabricated is discerned

– Buddha (in Nibbāna Sutta: Unbinding (3))

………………………………………………..

Verily, that great unborn soul, undecaying, undying, immortal, fearless is Brahman

–        Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.4.25

 

This Sunyata or the ultimate truth doesn’t have any attributes. It is the conscious space in which everything takes place. It is the substratum of everything that is in the reality, like a movie screen that acts as a substratum to show the moving pictures on it.

This substratum itself is empty of anything that we can call as a ‘thing’, including abstract things. A ‘thought’ is a thing; a feeling is a thing’ a sense perception is a thing; and an experience is a thing too. All these are witnessed as the existing things or stuff that occupy the space of consciousness itself. This underlying consciousness is called shakshin ( witness), satchitananda (truth -consciousness -bliss), nurguna brahman, sunyata and so on.

 

Buddhism and Vedanta
Buddhism and Vedanta are the same!

Adyaropa Apavada – The Teaching method of Vedanta

 

So, when Buddhism calls it as sunyata, why does Vedanta defines the reality in positive terminology?  Because, Vedantins  use a different teaching method called ‘Adhyaropa apavada’. The teaching method intentionally superimposes some attributes to the ultimate reality first to distinguish it from everything that it is not. So, even though no concept can define something that lacks any kind of thing that is conceived by a concept, these intentional attributes are made in order to help the mind to grasp it  as a concept at the initial stage.

Then Vedantins negate everything that it is not. They reject the body as not it because body can be witnessed as a thing. They reject the mind as not it because mind can be witnessed as a thing too. You first understand that you are Brahman and then you negate everything that is not ‘You’ by closely monitoring the mental processes every moment, with the detached witness attitude.

Finally, even the intentional attributes are also rejected. This helps to drop the initial concepts that were formed to understand Brahman. Once you let go of all the concepts of reality and narrow down to the bare reality of yourself, people say that you have realized the truth.

Let us see some excerpts from Vedantic scriptures which support this:

“Who so knows the Self, thus described, as the fearless Absolute (brahman), himself becomes the Absolute, beyond fear. This is a brief statement of the meaning of the entire Upanishad.  And in order to convey this meaning rightly, the fanciful alternatives of production, maintenance and withdrawal, and the false notion of action, its factors and results, are deliberately attributed to the Self as a first step. And then later the final metaphysical truth is inculcated by negating these characteristics through a comprehensive denial of all particular superimpositions on the Absolute, expressed in the phrase ‘neither this nor that’. Just as a man, wishing to explain numbers from one to a hundred thousand billion (points to figures that he has drawn and) says, ‘This figure is one, this figure is ten, this figure is a hundred, this figure is a thousand’ , and all the time his only purpose is to explain numbers, and not to affirm that the figures are numbers; or just as one wishing to explain the sounds of speech as repre sented by the written letters of the alphabet resorts to a device in the form of a palm-leaf on which he makes incisions which he later fills with ink to form letters, and all the while, (even though he point to a letter and say “This is the sound “so and so”‘) his only purpose is to explain the nature of the sounds referred to by each letter, and not to affirm that the leaf, incisions and ink are sounds; in just the same way, the one real metaphysical principle, the Absolute, is taught by resort to many devices, such as attributing to it production (of the world) and other powers. And then after wards the nature of the Absolute is restated, through the concluding formula ‘neither this nor that’, so as to purify it of all particular notions accruing to it from the various devices used to explain its nature in the first place’.

– Brhadaranyaka  Bhasya IV.iv.25  – by Shankara

……………………………………………………………………………………….

“Nor can the Absolute be properly referred to by any such terms as Being or non-being. For all words are used to convey a meaning, and when heard by their hearers convey the meaning the speaker had in mind. But communicable meaning is restricted without exception to universal, action, attribute and relation….

The Absolute, however, does not belong to any universal (genus), so it cannot be expressed by a noun such as ‘Being’ or ‘non-being’. Being without attributes, it cannot be described by any adjective denoting an attribute. And being actionless, it cannot be expressed by any verb denoting activity.

For the Upanishad speaks of it as ‘Without parts, without activity, at rest’ (Svet .VI.19) . Nor has it any relation with anything. For it is ‘One’, ‘without a second’, ‘not an object’ and ‘the Self. Hence it cannot be expressed by any word. And the upanishadic texts themselves confirm this when they say ‘That from which words fall back’ (Taitt .ll.9) , and in other passages.”

– (Bhagwad Gita Bhasya XIII.12) – Shankara

……………………………………………………………………………………

And because the Absolute has no particular characteristics, the Veda indicates its nature by denying of it the forms of all other things, as is shown, for instance, in the following pa sages: ‘And so, therefore, the teaching is “neither this nor that”‘ (Brhad.II.iii.6) , ‘It is other than what is known, and above the unknown’ (Kena I.U), ‘That from which words fall back without obtaining access, together with the mind’ (Taitt .II.9)

And the Vedic texts also relate how when Badhva was questioned by Baskalin he gave his answer merely by not speaking. ‘Sir, teach me in words’, Ba§kalin said. But the Teacher remained silent. Finally, at the second or third time of asking, Badhva replied, ‘I am telling you, but you do not understand. This Self is utter silence’

– (Bramasutra Bhasya III.ii.17) – Shankara

………………………………………………..

(a) In order to disclose the nature of the self as Brahman in itself Srutis like the following negate all specific features superimposed on it by the unenlightened common mind :-

“It is this Akshara (the Imperishable), 0 Gargi, so the knowers of    Brahman say. It is neither gross nor subtle, neither short nor long, not     red, not viscid, not shadowy, not dark, not the air, not the ether, not    adhesive, tasteless, odourless, without the sense of sight, without the    sense of hearing, without the vital principle, mouthless, without measure,   neither interior nor exterior,. It eats nothing, nobody eats it.”    – Br.3-8-8.

(b) Lest, by this strict denial of all properties it may be taken to be absolute nothing (s’unya), it is taught by means of illusory attributes seemingly pertaining to it owing to Upadhis (apparently conditioning factors).

(c) At the close of the teaching the rescission of even the imputed attributes used as a device for purposes of teaching, lest it should be regarded as actually belonging to it.
Hence that Brahman cannot be denoted by the epithet ‘jnanam’ (knowledge) either. Nevertheless, it is indicated though not expressed, by the word ”jnanam’  denoting the semblance of consciousness which is really a modification of the mind. It is not directly denoted by that term because Brahman is devoid of genus and other specific features which alone are the occasion for the application of words to a thing. So is it with regard to the term ‘Satyam’ (truth). For Brahman is by its very nature devoid of all specific features. The term Satyam really refers to the genus ‘being’ inhering in external objects, and when Brahman is described as ‘Sat yam’ (Real), it is only indicated by that term. But Brahman is not actually expressed by the term ‘Satyam’.

Tai. Bh. 2-1, p. 285 – Shankara

 

Atman and Anatman – The difference

 

Whatever you  observe in our conscious field is not You.. Therefore they are not the Self (or Bhrahman).. That is what the word ‘Anatta’ (Anatman) means..  Atman is Self. Anatman is that which is not Self.

This Atman or Brahman or Self cannot be put into words. Any name that is given to it is actually misleading to some extent. Thats why Buddha only talked about Anatta- that which is not the Atman.

Read this excerpt, it will make sense:

“Objection : “Is not even Atman denoted by the word ‘Atman’ ?

Reply: No. for there are Srutis like ‘From which words fall back’, ‘That in which one sees nothing else’.

Question: How then do texts like ‘Atman alone is below … .’ and ‘It is Atman’ reveal Atman ?

Reply:  This is no fault. For, the word (Atman), primarily used in the world of differences to denote individual soul as distinct from the body it possesses, is extended to indicate the entity which remains after the rejection of body and other not-selfs as not deserving that appellation, and is used to reveal what is really inexpressible by words”.

– Shankara – Ch. Bh. 7-1-3, p. 542.

Neti -Neti in Buddhism

 

Now, let us read Atmashatkam, a vedantic short poetry attributed to Shankara and Anattalakhana sutta, a Buddhist Sutta that discusses the Buddhist teachings on Anatta – no self.  Once you read it carefully, you will realize that both say exactly the same.

AtmaShatkam

1) I am not mind, nor intellect, nor ego, nor the reflections of inner self (citta). I am not the five senses. I am beyond that. I am not the ether, nor the earth, nor the fire, nor the wind (the five elements). I am indeed, That eternal knowing and bliss, the auspicious (Śivam), love and pure consciousness.

2) Neither can I be termed as energy (prāṇa), nor five types of breath (vāyus), nor the seven material essences, nor the five sheaths(pañca-kośa). Neither am I the organ of Speech, nor the organs for Holding ( Hand ), Movement ( Feet ) or Excretion. I am indeed, That eternal knowing and bliss, the auspicious (Śivam), love and pure consciousness.

3) I have no hatred or dislike, nor affiliation or liking, nor greed, nor delusion, nor pride or haughtiness, nor feelings of envy or jealousy. I have no duty (dharma), nor any money, nor any desire (kāma), nor even liberation (mokṣa). I am indeed, That eternal knowing and bliss, the auspicious (Śivam), love and pure consciousness.

4) I have neither merit (virtue), nor demerit (vice). I do not commit sins or good deeds, nor have happiness or sorrow, pain or pleasure. I do not need mantras, holy places, scriptures (Vedas), rituals or sacrifices (yajñas). I am none of the triad of the observer or one who experiences, the process of observing or experiencing, or any object being observed or experienced. I am indeed, That eternal knowing and bliss, the auspicious (Śivam), love and pure consciousness.

5)  I do not have fear of death, as I do not have death. I have no separation from my true self, no doubt about my existence, nor have I discrimination on the basis of birth. I have no father or mother, nor did I have a birth. I am not the relative, nor the friend, nor the guru, nor the disciple. I am indeed, That eternal knowing and bliss, the auspicious (Śivam), love and pure consciousness.

6) I am all pervasive. I am without any attributes, and without any form. I have neither attachment to the world, nor to liberation (mukti). I have no wishes for anything because I am everything, everywhere, every time, always in equilibrium. I am indeed, That eternal knowing and bliss, the auspicious (Śivam), love and pure consciousness.

Anatta-lakkhana Sutta

“So, bhikkhus any kind of form whatever, whether past, future or presently arisen, whether gross or subtle, whether in oneself or external, whether inferior or superior, whether far or near, must with right understanding how it is, be regarded thus: ‘This is not mine, this is not I, this is not myself.’

“Any kind of feeling whatever…

“Any kind of perception whatever…

“Any kind of determination whatever…

“Any kind of consciousness whatever, whether past, future or presently arisen, whether gross or subtle, whether in oneself or external, whether inferior or superior, whether far or near must, with right understanding how it is, be regarded thus: ‘This is not mine, this is not I, this is not my self.'”

……………………………………………………………………………..

It is obvious.. Both say the samething. This is called Neti Neti method in Vedanta – rejecting whatever that is observed as not-self. Here, it is important to see the thoughts, emotions and feelings etc are different from you, as they arise and pass away. As you witness these thoughts, you see yourself as a witness instead of identifying with thoughts and mental processes.

 

Nididhyasana  and Mindfulness  are the same

 

I understood that  Nididhyasana which is prescribed in Vedanta and Mindfulness that is prescribed in Buddhism are exactly the same, when I read Swami Satchidanandendra Saraswati’s interpretation of Nididhyasana.

 

You can read the book ‘Adyatma Yoga’ of Swami Satchidanandendra Saraswati to know how he explains it. He was a Sanskrit scholar and vedantic monk. He dedicated his whole life in bringing out the kind of teaching method that was actually adopted by Shankara. He lived up to the age 94 and has written over 200 books. He has worked hard enough to bring out the true teachings of Shankara.

 

Conclusion

 

We can compare Buddhism and Vedanta to two languages that evolved from a parent prolanguage. They split into two when Buddha refused to accept the authority of Vedas.

As centuries passed and different things evolved in each school, they became like two mutually unintelligible languages which belong to the same parent.

 

Oldest Teaching Of Advaita – Excerpt from Chandogya Upanishad

Upanishads are the basis for Indian schools of thought.  Of this, Brihadaranyaka Upanishad and Chandogya upanishad are the oldest. These are the earliest available literature in India which teach non-duality. I have been reading these texts for the past few days and I came across this wonderful section, which is the 6th prapathaka of Chandogya Upanishad. I found it very impressive and it brought tears in my eyes as I read it. So, I am sure you will enjoy this as well.

It narrates the story, which is a conversation between sage Aruni and his son Svetaketu. It contains the famous mahavakya ‘Tat tvam asi’. It has some great pointers which are useful for the spiritual seekers. I am posting the entire 6th prapathaka here… (Translated by Swami Nikhilananda). You can find the entire text here: http://www.swamij.com/upanishad-chandogya.htm

Khanda I — The Non—Duality of the Self

  1. Om. There once lived Svetaketu the grandson of Aruna. To him his father said: “Svetaketu, lead the life of a brahmacharin; for there is none belonging to our family, my dear, who, not having studied the Vedas, is a brahmin only by birth.”

2—3. Svetaketu went to his teacher’s house when he was twelve years old and studied the Vedas till he was twenty—four. Then he returned to his father, serious, considering himself well read and arrogant. His father said to him: “Svetaketu, since you are now so serious, think yourself well read and are so arrogant, have you, my dear, ever asked for that instruction by which one hears what cannot be heard, by which one perceives what cannot be perceived, by which one knows what cannot be known?” Svetaketu asked: “What is that instruction, venerable Sir?”

4—6. “Just as, my dear, by one clod of clay all that is made of clay is known, the modification being only a name, arising from speech, while the truth is that all is clay; “Just as, my dear, by one nugget of gold all that is made of gold is known, the modification being only a name, arising from speech, while the truth is that all is gold; “And just as, my dear, by one pair of nail—scissors all that is made of iron is known, the modification being only a name, arising from speech, while the truth is that all is iron—even so, my dear, is that instruction.”

  1. “Surely those venerable men did not know that. For if they had known it, why should they not have told it to me? Therefore do you, venerable Sir, tell me about it.” “So be it, my dear,” said the father.

 

Khanda II — Brahman: the Cause of the Universe

 

  1. “In the beginning, my dear, this universe was Being (Sat) alone, one only without a second. Some say that in the beginning this was non—being (asat) alone, one only without a second; and from that non—being, being was born.”
  2. Aruni said: “But how, indeed, could it be thus, my dear? How could Being be born from non—being? No, my dear, it was Being alone that existed in the beginning, one only without a second.
  3. “It (Being, or Brahman) thought: ‘May I be many; may I grow forth.’ It created fire. That fire thought: ‘May I be many; may I grow forth.’ It created water. That is why, whenever a person is hot and perspires, water is produced from fire (heat) alone.
  4. “That water thought: ‘May I be many; may I grow forth.’ It created food (i.e. earth). That is why, whenever it rains anywhere, abundant food is produced. From water alone is edible food produced.

 

Khanda III — The Threefold Development

 

  1. “Of all these living beings, there are only three origins: those born from an egg, those born from a living being and those born from a sprout.
  2. “That Deity thought: ‘Let Me now enter into those three deities by means of this living self and let Me then develop names and forms.’
  3. “That Deity, having thought: ‘Let Me make each of these three tripartite,’ entered into these three deities by means of the living self and developed names and forms.
  4. “It made each of these tripartite; and how these three deities became, each of them, tripartite, that learn from me now, my dear.

 

Khanda IV — The Threefold Development further explained

 

  1. “The red colour of gross fire is the colour of the original fire; the white colour of gross fire is the colour of the original water; the black colour of gross fire is the colour of the original earth. Thus vanishes from fire what is commonly called fire, the modification being only a name, arising from speech, while the three colours (forms) alone are true.
  2. “The red colour of the sun is the colour of fire, the white the colour of water, the black the colour of earth. Thus vanishes from the sun what is commonly called the sun, the modification being only a name, arising from speech, while the three colours alone are true.
  3. “The red colour of the moon is the colour of fire, the white the colour of water, the black the colour of earth. Thus vanishes from the moon what is commonly called the moon, the modification being only a name, arising from speech, while the three colours alone are true.
  4. “The red colour of lightning is the colour of fire, the white the colour of water, the black the colour of earth. Thus vanishes from lightning what is commonly called lighting, the modification being only a name, arising from speech, while the three colours alone are true.
  5. “It was just through this knowledge that the great householders and great Vedic scholars of olden times declared: ‘No one can now mention to us anything which we have not heard, thought of, or known.’ They knew all from these three forms.

6—7. “Whatever, appeared red they knew to be the colour of fire; whatever appeared white they knew to be the colour of water; whatever appeared black they knew to be the colour of earth. “Whatever appeared to be unknown they knew to be the combination of these three deities (i.e. colours). Now learn from me, my dear, how these three deities, when they reach man, become each of them tripartite.

 

Khanda V — The Threefold Nature of Food

 

  1. “Food when eaten becomes threefold. What is coarsest in it becomes faeces, what is medium becomes flesh and what is subtlest becomes mind.
  2. “Water when drunk becomes threefold. What is coarsest in it becomes urine, what is medium becomes blood and what is subtlest becomes prana.
  3. “Fire when eaten becomes threefold. What is coarsest in it becomes bone, what is medium becomes marrow and what is subtlest becomes speech.
  4. “The mind, my dear, consists of food, the prana of water and speech of heat.” “Please, venerable Sir, instruct me further.” “So be it, my dear.”

 

Khanda VI — The Physical Nature of the Mind, the Prana and Speech

 

  1. “That, my dear, which is the subtlest part of curds rises, when they are churned and becomes butter.
  2. “In the same manner, my dear, that which is the subtlest part of the food that is eaten rises and becomes mind.
  3. “The subtlest part of the water that is drunk rises and becomes prana.
  4. “The subtlest part of the fire that is eaten rises and becomes speech.
  5. “Thus, my dear, the mind consists of food, the prana consists of water and speech consists of fire.” “Please, venerable Sir, instruct me further.” “So be it, my dear.”

 

Khanda VII — How the Mind consists of Food

 

  1. “A person, my dear, consists of sixteen parts. Do not eat any food for fifteen days, but drink as much water as you like. Since the prana consists of water, it will not be cut off if you drink water.”
  2. Svetaketu did not eat any food for fifteen days. Then he came to his father and said: “What, Sir, shall I recite?” His father said: “The Rik, Yagus and Saman verses.” He replied: “They do not occur to me, Sir.”
  3. His father said to him: “Just as, my dear, of a great blazing fire a single coal, the size of a firefly, may be left, which would not burn much more than that, even so, my dear, of your sixteen parts only one part is left; and therefore with that one part you do not remember the Vedas. Now go and eat and you will understand me.”
  4. Svetaketu ate and approached his father. Then whatever his father asked him, he showed that he knew it.

5—6. Then his father said to him: “Just as, my dear, of a great lighted fire a single coal the size of a firefly, if left, may be made to blaze up again by adding grass to it and will thus burn much more, “Even so, my dear; of your sixteen parts only one part was left and that, when strengthened by food, blazed up. With it you now remember the Vedas. Therefore, my dear, the mind consists of food, the prana consists of water and speech consists of fire.” After that he understood what his father said, yea, he understood it.

 

Khanda VIII — Concerning Sleep, Hunger, Thirst and Death

 

  1. Uddalaka the son of Aruna said to his son Svetaketu: “Learn from me, my dear, the true nature of sleep. When a person has entered into deep sleep, as it is called, then, my dear, he becomes united with Pure Being (Sat), he has gone to his own Self. That is why they say he is in deep sleep (svapiti); it is because he has gone (apita) to his own (svam).
  2. “Just as a bird tied by a string to the hand of the bird—catcher first flies in every direction and then finding no rest anywhere, settles down at the place where it is bound, so also the mind (i.e. the individual soul reflected in the mind), my dear, after flying in every direction and finding no rest anywhere, settles down in the Prana (i.e. Pure Being); for the mind (the individual soul) is fastened to the Prana (Pure Being).
  3. “Learn from me, my dear, what hunger and thirst are. When a man is hungry, as they say, it is water that has led (i.e. carried away) what was eaten. Therefore, just as they speak of a leader of cows, a leader of horses, a leader of men, so do they speak of water as the leader of food. So, my dear, know this offshoot (i.e. the body) to have sprung forth from a cause, for it cannot be without a root.
  4. “And where could its root be except in food (earth)? And in the same way, my dear, as food too is an offshoot, seek for water as its root. And as water too, my dear, is an offshoot, seek for fire as its root. And as fire too, my dear, is an offshoot, seek for Being (Sat) as its root. Yes, all these creatures, my dear, have their root in Being, they dwell in Being, they finally rest in Being.
  5. “When a man is said to be thirsty, it is fire that has led (i.e. carried away) what was drunk by him. Therefore as they speak of a leader of cows, a leader of horses, a leader of men, so do they speak of fire as the leader of water. So, my dear, know this offshoot (the body) to have sprung forth from a cause, for it cannot be without a root.
  6. “And where could its root be except in water? And in the same way, my dear, as water is an offshoot, seek for fire as its root. And as fire too, my dear, is an offshoot, seek for Being as its root. Yes, my dear, all these creatures have their root in Being, they dwell in Being, they finally rest in Being. “And how these three deities (fire, water and earth), on reaching a human being, become each of them tripartite has already been said. When a person departs hence, his speech merges in his mind, his mind in his prana, his prana in heat (fire) and the heat in the Highest Being.
  7. “Now, that which is the subtle essence—in it all that exists has its self. That is the True. That is the Self. That thou art, Svetaketu.” “Please, venerable Sir, give me further instruction,” said the son. “So be it, my dear,” the father replied.

 

Khanda IX — The Absence of Individuality in Deep Sleep

 

1—2. “As bees, my dear, make honey by collecting the juices of trees located at different places and reduce them to one form, “And as these juices have no discrimination so as to be able to say: ‘I am the juice of this tree,’ or ‘I am the juice of that tree’—even so, indeed, my dear, all these creatures, though they reach Pure Being, do not know that they have reached Pure Being.

  1. “Whatever these creatures are, here in this world—a tiger, a lion, a wolf, a boar, a worm, a fly, a gnat, or a mosquito—that they become again.
  2. “Now, that which is the subtle essence—in it all that exists has its self. That is the True. That is the Self. That thou art, Svetaketu.” “Please, venerable Sir, give me further instruction,” said the son. “So be it, my dear,” the father replied.

 

Khanda X — The Absence of Particularized Consciousness in Deep Sleep

 

1—2. “These rivers, my dear, flow—the eastern toward the east and the western toward the west. They arise from the sea and flow into the sea. Just as these rivers, while they are in the sea, do not know: ‘I am this river’ or ‘I am that river,’ “Even so, my dear, all these creatures, even though they have come from Pure Being, do not know that they have come from Pure Being. Whatever these creatures are, here in this world—a tiger, a lion, a wolf a boar, a worm, a fly, a gnat, or a mosquito, that they become again.

  1. “Now, that which is the subtle essence—in it all that exists has its self. That is the True. That is the Self. That thou art, Svetaketu.” “Please, venerable Sir, give me further instruction,” said the son. “So be it, my dear,” the father replied.

 

Khanda XI — The Indestructibility of the Jiva

 

  1. “If, my dear, someone were to strike at the root of this large tree here, it would bleed but live. If he were to strike at the middle, it would bleed but live. If he were to strike at the top, it would bleed but live. Pervaded by the living self, that tree stands firm, drinking in again and again its nourishment and rejoicing.
  2. “But if the life (i.e. living self) leaves one of its branches, that branch withers; if it leaves a second, that branch withers; if it leaves a third, that branch withers. If it leaves the whole tree, the whole three withers.
  3. “In exactly the same manner, my dear,” said he, “know this: This body dies, bereft of the living self; but the living self dies not. “Now, that which is the subtle essence—in it all that exists has its self. That is the True. That is the Self. That thou art, Svetaketu.” “Please, venerable Sir, give me further instruction,” said the son. “So be it, my dear,” the father replied.

 

Khanda XII — The Birth of the Gross from the Subtle

 

  1. “Bring me a fruit of that nyagrodha (banyan) tree.” “Here it is’ venerable Sir.” “Break it.” “It is broken, venerable Sir.” “What do you see there?” “These seeds, exceedingly small, “Break one of these, my son.” “It is broken, venerable Sir.” “What do you see there?” “Nothing at all, venerable Sir.”
  2. The father said: “That subtle essence, my dear, which you do not perceive there—from that very essence this great nyagrodha arises. Believe me, my dear.
  3. “Now, that which is the subtle essence—in it all that exists has its self. That is the True. That is the Self. That thou art, Svetaketu.” “Please, venerable Sir, give me further instruction,” said the son. “So be it, my dear,” the father replied.

 

Khanda XIII — The Invisibility of an Existent Object

 

  1. “Place this salt in water and then come to me in the morning.” The son did as he was told. The father said to him: “My son, bring me the salt which you placed in the water last night.” Looking for it, the son did not find it, for it was completely dissolved.
  2. The father said: “My son, take a sip of water from the surface. How is it?” “It is salt.” “Take a sip from the middle. How is it?” “It is salt.” “Take a sip from the bottom. How is it?” “It is salt.” “Throw it away and come to me.” The son did as he was told, saying: “The salt was there all the time.” Then the father said: “Here also, my dear, in this body you do not perceive Sat (Being); but It is indeed there.”
  3. “Now, that which is the subtle essence—in it all that exists has its self. That is the True. That is the Self That thou art, Svetaketu.” “Please, venerable Sir, give me further instruction,” said the son. “So be it, my dear,” the father replied.

 

Khanda XIV — The Means of Self—Knowledge

 

  1. “Just as someone, my dear, might lead a person, with his eyes covered, away from the country of the Gandharas and leave him in a place where there were no human beings; and just as that person would turn toward the east, or the north, or the south, or the west, shouting: ‘I have been brought here with my eyes covered, I have been left here with my eyes covered!’
  2. “And as thereupon someone might loosen the covering and say to him: ‘Gandhara is in that direction; go that way’; and as thereupon, having been informed and being capable of judgement, he would, by asking his way from one village to another, arrive at last at Gandhara—in exactly the same manner does a man who has found a teacher to instruct him obtain the true knowledge. For him there is delay only so long as he is not liberated from the body; then he reaches perfection.
  3. “Now, that which is the subtle essence—in it all that exists has its self. That is the True. That is the Self That thou art, Svetaketu.” “Please, venerable Sir, give me further instruction,” said the son. “So be it, my dear,” the father replied.

 

Khanda XV — Ultimate Liberation

 

  1. “Around a dying person afflicted with illness, my dear, his relatives gather and ask: ‘Do you know me? Do you know me?’ He knows them as long as his speech is not merged in his mind, his mind in his prana (breath), his prana in heat (fire) and the heat in the Highest Deity.
  2. “But when his speech is merged in his mind, his mind in his prana, his prana in heat and the heat in the Highest Deity, then he does not know them.
  3. “Now, that which is the subtle essence—in it all that exists has its self. That is the True. That is the Self. That thou art, Svetaketu.” “Please, venerable Sir, give me further instruction,” said the son “So be it, my dear;” the father replied.

 

Khanda XVI — Liberation for the Knower of Brahman

 

  1. “My dear, they (i.e. the police) bring a man whom they have seized by the hand and say: ‘He has taken something, he has committed a theft.’ When he denies it, they say: ‘Heat the axe for him.’ If he has committed the theft but denies it, then he makes himself a liar. Being false—minded, he covers himself with falsehood, grasps the heated axe and is burnt. Then he is killed.
  2. “But if he did not commit the theft, then he makes himself what he really is. Being true—minded, he covers himself with truth, grasps the heated axe and is not burnt. He is released.
  3. “As that truthful man is not burnt so also one who has known Sat is not born again. Thus in That (Sat) all that exists has its self. That is the True. That is the Self. That thou art, Svetaketu.”

 

Gems Of Wisdom From Ashtavakra Gita

Ashtavakra Gita is a famous scripture of Advaita Vedanta which was written as a conversation between sage Ashtavakra and king Janaka. Ashtavakra was the grandson of vedic sage Aruni. ( Aruni was the guru of vedic sage Yajnavalkya and Yajnavalkya was believed to be the teacher of Janaka.). Sage Ashtavakra has been mentioned in both Ramayana and Mahabharata.

Exact date of composition of Ashtavakra Gita is not known. While the text is traditionally attributed to Ashtavakra himself, some scholars believe that the text was composed a little before Gaudapada’s period or after Shankara’s time.

Both Ramakrishna Paramhamsa and Ramana Maharshi have quoted and appreciated Ashtavakra Gita for its deep wisdom.

Ramabhadracharya_Works_-_Painting_in_Ashtavakra_(2010)

Image credit – Wiki

Osho identified the similarity between Ashtavakra’s teachings and the teachings of Lao Tzu:

“Just a few days ago I was talking about Ashtavakra. Yes, he is exactly like Lao Tzu; he also praises the quality of sublime laziness. He calls it ALASI SHIROMANI. the emperor of laziness, a great king of laziness, the highest peak of laziness. But remember, inactivity plus energy, plus vitality. And not a single effort has to be made, because in the effort so much energy will be wasted that you will be less radiant. And God comes to you only when you are so vital — optimumly vital, optimum… at the peak — that you cannot be any more vital. At that peak you meet the divine. Your highest energy comes closest to God’s feet; God’s lowest energy is closest to man’s highest energy, and there is the communion.”

– Tao: The Pathless Path, Vol 1, Chapter #2

The English translation of the book is available for free here:

http://www.holybooks.com/wp-content/uploads/Ashtavakra-Gita-ebook.pdf

Here are some of the verses that I found to be very useful for seekers and deep in meaning:

1.8 The thought: “I am the doer” is the bite of a poisonous snake. To know: “I do nothing” is the wisdom of faith. Be happy.

1.13 Meditate on this: “I am Awareness alone–Unity itself.” Give up the idea that you are separate, a person, that there is within and without.

1.19 Just as a mirror exists both within and without the image reflected, the Supreme Self exists both within and without the body.

1.20 Just as the same space exists both within and without a jar, the timeless, all-pervasive One exists as Totality.

2.5 Look closely at cloth, you see only threads. Look closely at creation, you see only Self.

3.10 A great soul witnesses his body’s actions as if they were another’s. How can praise or blame disturb him?

15.6 Realize Self in All and All in Self. Be free of personal identity and the sense of “mine.” Be happy

15.11 Let the waves of the universe rise and fall as they will. You have nothing to gain or lose. You are the ocean.

16.1 You can recite and discuss scripture all you want, but until you drop everything you will never know Truth.

16.8 Indulgence creates attachment. Aversion creates abstinence. Like a child, the sage is free of both and thus lives on as a child.

16.9 One who is attached to the world thinks renouncing it will relieve his misery. One who is attached to nothing is free and does not feel miserable even in the world.

16.10 He who claims liberation as his own, as an attainment of a person, is neither enlightened nor a seeker. He suffers his own misery.

17.4 Rare in the world is one who does not relish past enjoyments, nor yearn for enjoyments to come.

17.5 Those who desire pleasure and those who desire liberation are both common in the world. Rare is the great soul who desires neither enjoyment nor liberation.

17.17 The liberated one neither avoids experience nor craves it. He enjoys what comes and what does not.

18.9 Knowing for certain that all is Self, the sage has no trace of thoughts such as “I am this” or “I am not that.”

18.37 Because he desires to know God, the ignorant man can never become That. The wise man is God because he is free of desire and knows nothing.

18.40 For he who thinks knowledge is things and ideas how can there be Self-knowledge? The wise do not see separate things– only the timeless Self.

18.42 Some believe in existence; others believe nothing exists. Rare is the one who believes nothing and is never confused.

18.43 Weak intellectuals may believe the Self is One without other. But being mired in illusion they do not actually know Self, so live out their lives in misery.

18.49 The sage does whatever appears to be done without thinking of good or bad. His actions are those of a child.

18.55 Though his servants, sons, wives, daughters, grandchildren and all his relatives ridicule and despise him, the yogi is undismayed.

18.56 Though pleased he is not pleasured; though pained he does not suffer. This wonderful state is understood only by those like him.

18.58 Even doing nothing the dull one is anxious and distracted. Even amidst great action the wise one remains still.

An Invitation to Debate: Swami Satchidanandendra Saraswati vs Modern Vedanta teachers

This article is an invitation for a healthy debate with modern Vedanta teachers like James Swartz who claim that their teachings are in line with traditional Vedanta. I think James Swartz, in particular, wouldn’t mind in clarifying some of the concerns raised in this article, as he himself considers that criticism is a healthy aspect of Vedanta. Also, since he has said in a Dharma combat that he enjoys such debates, I hope he doesn’t consider this as something unimportant or offensive.

First of all, I am not in any way stating my own opinions here and I am well aware that with my age and qualifications, I am not the right candidate to present such arguments. However, whatever I write here is only from scriptures including mukya Upanishads cited by Shankaracharya, Brahmasutras, Gita and the commentaries of Shankara on these texts. Since independent works such as Vivekachudamani are not considered as authentic works of Shankara by many, those texts are not quoted.

Swami_Satchidanandendra_Saraswati

Also, these concepts are directly from the book ‘Method of Vedanta’ written by Swami Satchidanandendra Saraswati, who was a Sanskrit scholar and vedantic monk. He dedicated his whole life in bringing out the kind of teaching method that was actually adopted by Shankara. He lived up to the age 94 and has written over 200 books. He has worked hard enough to bring out the true teachings of Shankara. And, the whole Vedanta community is indebted for his extraordinary work. So, this debate is indeed between Satchidanandendra Saraswati and any other Vedanta teachers who would like to participate. I hope this debate will help to clarify much confusion that give raise to innumerous arguments among many sincere disciples of Vedanta.

 

A Brief Summary of the points discussed

 

  • Experience and Moksha

According to James Swartz, the teaching method in Vedanta that is taught to qualified students results in ‘self-realization’, which is an experience of self. But the knowledge has to be assimilated for years to attain Moksha, translated by him as ‘enlightenment’. Also, according to the highly revered Swami Dayananda Saraswati, there is no such thing as experience at all, which happens as the result of the teaching.

But according to Shankara, teachings lead to direct experience of self, which is same as Jnana or enlightenment. This knowledge gained through direct experience of self doesn’t have to be strengthened by any further practice. He doesn’t seem to make such a distinction between self-realization and enlightenment at all. The objection that is raised against this is usually called as Prashankyana vada.

In Brahma Sutra Bhasya, Shankara gives a lot of details on this on his commentary for the verse 1.4.7. Since his discussion on this is quite long, I wouldn’t be able to provide the entire section here. However, in the citations that I have included below, you can see some of the verses cited by Swami Satchidanandendra Saraswathi, to show how teaching results in the direct experience of self.

 

  • Nididhyasana

This has been defined in many ways by modern teachers.

For example, Ted Schmidt, a student of James Swartz defines it as following in his site:

Nididhyasana is the practice of continuously meditating upon the teachings of Vedanta. This type of meditation is not to be confused with formal seated meditation.”

James Swartz defines it a little differently in his site, which doesn’t sound like the practice but the result of the practice itself:

“It is the complete assimilation of the knowledge that destroys the network of ignorance-based desires and one’s sense of doership. It has a dramatic experiential impact in so far as one’s life becomes free and peaceful and completely fulfilled.”

He also says ‘nididhyasana never ends for the jiva’ in his Facebook page.

However, Satchidanandendra Saraswathi defines it as a sustained meditation on self. Please refer his explanations and citations given by him below, in the citations section.

I think it is really important for students to know what Nididhyasana exactly is. So, I hope this debate will clarify the confusion on this.

 

  • The Teaching model of Vedanta – Adhyaropa apavada

This is regarding a significant contribution by Satchidanandendra Saraswati, who revived the true structure of the ancient teaching taught by Upanishads and Shankara. I didn’t find any modern teachers writing or talking about the third step, which also negates the intentionally superimposed attributes on Self, which were superimposed on it solely as teaching devices in the first place. (Please refer the citations section for details).

 

  • Enlightenment, bliss and cessation of desires

This is something that I myself noticed in Shankara’s bhasya on Brihadaranyaka Upanishad on verse 4.3.33, which talks about cessation of desires and bliss of self..

However, James Swartz says that enlightenment doesn’t result in eternal bliss. So, was the verse just an exaggeration and did Shankara fail to mention it so? I have noticed Shankara’s commentaries and how precise they are in explaining everything; so I doubt if the latter was true.

Also, James Swartz says “This idea is another negative formulation of enlightenment. Nirvana is a desireless state of mind. This view is based on the idea that desire is suffering, which it is. To say that you want something means that you are not happy with what you have. This teaching is unworkable because a desireless mind is a contradiction in terms. When, except during sleep, do you not want something?”

Both of the above views of James are explained here in his page. And, needless to say, many teachers of Vedanta in this century share his view as well.

But doesn’t this contradict with the scriptures and Shankara? Please explain how to resolve this contradiction.

The following passages are the citations for the four points that I have mentioned.

 

Experience and Moksha

 

Known technically as ‘the Absolute’ (brahman), it is of the nature of immediate experience, void of all the attributes of transmigratory life. This is the meaning of the word ‘that’ (in the phrase ‘That thou art’), familiar to the experts in the Upanishads.

– Shankara (B.S.Bh.IV.i .2)

In the case of enquiry into the Vedic ritual, the Vedic and other traditional texts alone are the criterion. But this is not so in the case of the enquiry into the Absolute. Here it is the same texts that are the authority, but with immediate experience (and firm remembrance, etc.) added in the case of the purely metaphysical texts . For knowledge of the Absolute requires to culminate in immediate experience (anubhava), and (unlike the part of the Veda dealing with commands and prohibitions) has an already-existent reality for its object.

– Shankara (B.S. Bh.I.i.2)

Repeated resort to the appropriate means of knowledge is indeed useless in the case of the person who can attain immediate experience of the fact that his true Self is the Absolute merely from hearing the text ‘That thou art’ spoken once. But for him who is not able to do so, repetition is the proper means.

– Shankara in (B.S.Bh.IV.i .2)

True, it has been said that the Veda itself proclaims that reason must be respected, as it enjoins pondering as well as hearing. But this should not be used as a pretext for allowing empty hypothetical reasoning to gain entry. For in the present context only those arguments that are sanctioned by the Veda may be resorted to, and that only as an auxiliary to the attainment of direct experience.

– Shankara in  (B.S.Bh. II. i. 6)

 

Nididhyasana

 

Swami Satchidanandendra saraswathi explains what is nididhyasana and also quotes verses from Shankara, Gaudapa Karika and Gita which give instructions on how to practice nididhyasana.. And this differs from what is being taught by other teachers. By Nididhyasana, he means actual meditation.

Here is Swami’s explanation:

“The aim of the one practicing sustained meditation (nididhyasana) is different. He tries to attain direct vision of reality (here in this very world) by turning his mind away from all else. And there is the difference — as against upasana — that after the rise of knowledge nothing further remains to be done.

It is this sustained meditation that is referred to at Katha Upanishad I.ii.13 by the name ‘Adhyatma Yoga‘. In the Gita it is sometimes called ‘Dhyana Yoga‘ (e.g. XVIII. 52). In the Mandukya Karikas it is called ‘restraint of the mind’ (G.K.III.41, etc.). Its nature is described there in that latter work.

Everywhere its result is described in the same way as right metaphysical knowledge, and from this comes immediate liberation.

And here are the citations provided

  1. The wise man comes to know God through mastering Adhyatma Yoga, and gives up joy and sorrow. (Katha I.ii.12)

Sankara’s Commentary:

Mastering Adhyatma Yoga: Adhyatma Yoga means withdrawing the mind from objects and concentrating it on the Self. Having meditated on the deity, the Self, through attainment of Adhyatma Yoga, the wise man gives up joy and sorrow because there are no gradations of value in the Self.

  1.  ‘He is seen by those of subtle vision through their subtle minds’ says the Veda (Katha I.iii.12), pointing out that the highest state of Vi§nu is difficult to attain. Then the same text goes on to teach yoga as the means to attain it, in the words ‘The wise man should dissolve the senses into the mind and should dissolve the mind into the intellect. He should dissolve the soul into the great self and he should dissolve that into the Self that is pure peace’ (Katha I.iii. 13).

That is, he should first give up the use of speech and the other organs of action and perception and should remain identified with the lower aspect of the mind alone. He should then note that the lower aspect of the mind, too, has defects such as an inclination towards the sense objects and unsteadiness in its decisions, and he should dissolve it into that higher aspect of mind (buddhi) which has fixed determination for its nature and is sometimes known by the technical term ‘intellect’ (vijnana). He should refine the intellect and resolve it into ‘the great self, the experiencer or apex of the intellect. The ‘great self, however, must be dissolved in the ‘Self that is pure peace’, the supreme Spirit that is the subject of the section, the summit of human experience.

– Shankara (Brahma Sutra Bhasya I.iv.l  (the whole second point above is Shankara’s commentary on Brahma sutras)

  1. Resorting to dispassion, always intent on the Yoga of Meditation (Dhyana Yoga). (Bh.G. XVIII. 52)

Sankara’s Commentary:

Meditation means dwelling on the true nature of the Self. Yoga means one-pointed concentration on the Self. He who is intent on ‘Dhyana’ and ‘Yoga’ thus defined is the one ‘intent on the Yoga of Meditation’. The use of the word ‘always’ is to show that he has no other duties, such as daily repetition of the Vedic verses.

  1. That yoga should certainly be practiced with resolute mind. Giving up without exception all desires that come from individual will, restraining the sense-organs on every side through the mind, one should gradually withdraw from all activity, with will and intellect firmly controlled; keeping the mind fixed on the Self, one should not think of anything.

Wherever the fickle mind wanders , one should bring it back and fix it on the Self alone, under firm control. Supreme joy comes to such a yogi, whose mind is at perfect peace, whose lusts have subsided, who is sinless and who has become the Ab solute. Such a yogi, free from all sin, always controlling his mind in this way, easily attains the supreme joy of con tact with the Absolute. With his mind controlled through yoga, he sees himself in all beings and all beings in his own Self, seeing the same everywhere.  (Bh.G. VI. 23-9)

Sankara’ s Commentary: ‘

Seeing the same everywhere’ is said of one who has the same undifferentiated vision or knowledge of unity and identity with the Absolute and the Self in regard to all things of different grades, from Brahma to the beings of the vegetable and mineral realms. (Bh.G.Bh.VI.29)

  1. The mind must be restrained tirelessly, as if one were emptying the sea with the tip of a blade of grass. One must resort to special means to restrain the mind when it is dispersed amid desires and enjoyments. The mind must also be awakened and held in restraint even when it is perfectly calm in the dissolution of dreamless sleep. Mere dissolution in dreamless sleep is no better than desire (since it is also the seed of future worldly experience).

One restrains the mind from desires and enjoyments by remembering ‘All is pain’. When one remembers ‘All is the Unborn (the Absolute)’, one does not even see what is born. When the mind is drowsy in its practice of yoga one should arouse it, and when it is distracted one should again calm it down. One should know that the mind is soiled with latent impressions, and should not allow it to move when it has attained the state of equilibrium, free from the tendency either to dissolution or distraction.

Even there, one should not savour the joy. One should acquire non-attachment through the discriminative wisdom that sees all joy as born of Ignorance. When the mind, although at first motionless, moves out once more, one should again carefully bring it back to unity. When the mind no longer either undergoes dissolution in dreamless sleep or distraction amidst desires and enjoyments, and it is motionless and without manifestation, then it has reached its state of perfection. It (has reached the state of ‘no-mind’, G.K.III. 32, and) is the Absolute. (G.K.III. 1-6)

 

Adyaropa Apavada – The Teaching Method in Vedanta

 

This teaching method ‘Adhyaropa apavada‘ is not properly followed by many modern teachers who teach Vedanta today. That is why I think people get stuck in all kinds of concepts..

 Here is how he describes in short, in one of his books:

(a) In order to disclose the nature of the self as Brahman in itself Srutis like the following negate all specific features superimposed on it by the unenlightened common mind :-

“It is this Akshara (the Imperishable), 0 Gargi, so the knowers of
Brahman say. It is neither gross nor subtle, neither short nor long, not
red, not viscid, not shadowy, not dark, not the air, not the ether, not
adhesive, tasteless, odourless, without the sense of sight, without the
sense of hearing, without the vital principle, mouthless, without measure,
neither interior nor exterior,. It eats nothing, nobody eats it.”
– Br.3-8-8.

(b) Lest, by this strict denial of all properties it may be taken to be absolute nothing (s’unya), it is taught by means of illusory attributes seemingly pertaining to it owing to Upadhis (apparently conditioning factors).

(c) At the close of the teaching the rescission of even the imputed attributes used as a device for purposes of teaching, lest it should be regarded as actually belonging to it.

(Many modern teachers stop with (a) and (b) )

Citations provided by Swami:

1.”The Absolute is that in which there is no particularity. There is no name, no form, no action, no distinction, no universal, no attribute. It is through these determinations alone that speech proceeds, and not one of them belongs to the Absolute. So the latter cannot be taught by sentences of the pattern ‘This is so-and-so’.

In such upanishadic phrases and words as “The Absolute is Consciousness-Bliss’ (Brhad.III.ix.28.7) . ‘A mere mass of Consciousness’ (Brhad.II.iv.12) , ‘Brahman’, ‘Atman’, the Absolute is artificially referred to with the help of superimposed name, form and action, and spoken of exactly in the way we refer to objects of perception, as when we say ‘That white cow with horns is twitching’.

But if the desire is to express the true nature of the Absolute, void of all conditioning adjuncts and particularity, then it cannot be described by any positive means whatever. The only ‘ possible method then is to refer to it through a comprehensive denial of whatever positive characteristics have been attributed to it in previous teachings, and to say ‘neither this nor that’.

– (Brhad.Bh.II.iii.6) – Shankara

 

  1. “Nor can the Absolute be properly referred to by any such terms as Being or non-being. For all words are used to convey a meaning, and when heard by their hearers convey the meaning the speaker had in mind. But communicable meaning is restricted without exception to universal, action, attribute and relation….

The Absolute, however, does not belong to any universal (genus), so it cannot be expressed by a noun such as ‘Being’ or ‘non-being’. Being without attributes, it cannot be described by any adjective denoting an attribute. And being actionless, it cannot be expressed by any verb denoting activity.

For the Upanishad speaks of it as ‘Without parts, without activity, at rest’ (Svet .VI.19) . Nor has it any relation with anything. For it is ‘One’, ‘without a second’, ‘not an object’ and ‘the Self. Hence it cannot be expressed by any word. And the upanishadic texts themselves confirm this when they say ‘That from which words fall back’ (Taitt .ll.9) , and in other passages.”

– (Bh.G.Bh.XIII.12) – Shankara

 

  1. And because the Absolute has no particular characteristics, the Veda indicates its nature by denying of it the forms of all other things, as is shown, for instance, in the following pa sages: ‘And so, therefore, the teaching is “neither this nor that”‘ (Brhad.II.iii.6) , ‘It is other than what is known, and above the unknown’ (Kena I.U), ‘That from which words fall back without obtaining access, together with the mind’ (Taitt .II.9) .

And the Vedic texts also relate how when Badhva was questioned by Baskalin he gave his answer merely by not speaking. ‘Sir, teach me in words’, Ba§kalin said. But the Teacher remained silent. Finally, at the second or third time of asking, Badhva replied, ‘I am telling you, but you do not understand. This Self is utter silence’

– (B.S.Bh.III.ii.17) – Shankara

  1. “Who so knows the Self, thus described, as the fearless Absolute (brahman), himself becomes the Absolute, beyond fear. This is a brief statement of the meaning of the entire Upanishad.  And in order to convey this meaning rightly, the fanciful alternatives of production, maintenance and withdrawal, and the false notion of action, its factors and results, are deliberately attributed to the Self as a first step. And then later the final metaphysical truth is inculcated by negating these characteristics through a comprehensive denial of all particular superimpositions on the Absolute, expressed in the phrase ‘neither this nor that’.

Just as a man, wishing to explain numbers from one to a hundred thousand billion (points to figures that he has drawn and) says, ‘This figure is one, this figure is ten, this figure is a hundred, this figure is a thousand’ , and all the time his only purpose is to explain numbers, and not to affirm that the figures are numbers; or just as one wishing to explain the sounds of speech as represented by the written letters of the alphabet resorts to a device in the form of a palm-leaf on which he makes incisions which he later fills with ink to form letters, and all the while, (even though he point to a letter and say “This is the sound “so and so”‘) his only purpose is to explain the nature of the sounds referred to by each letter, and not to affirm that the leaf, incisions and ink are sounds;

In just the same way, the one real metaphysical principle, the Absolute, is taught by resort to many devices, such as attributing to it production (of the world) and other powers. And then after wards the nature of the Absolute is restated, through the concluding formula ‘neither this nor that’, so as to purify it of all particular notions accruing to it from the various devices used to explain its nature in the first place’.

– Brhad. Bh.IV.iv.25 by Shankara

  1. Hence that Brahman cannot be denoted by the epithet ‘jnanam’ (knowledge) either. Nevertheless, it is indicated though not expressed, by the word ‘‘jnanam’ denoting the semblance of consciousness which is really a modification of the mind. It is not directly denoted by that term because Brahman is devoid of genus and other specific features which alone are the occasion for the application of words to a thing. So is it with regard to the term ‘Satyam’ (truth). For Brahman is by its very nature devoid of all specific features. The term Satyam really refers to the genus ‘being’ inhering in external objects, and when Brahman is described as ‘Sat yam’ (Real), it is only indicated by that term. But Brahman is not actually expressed by the term ‘Satyam’.

–  Shankara – Tai. Bh. 2-1, p. 285.

  1. “Objection : “Is not even Atmandenoted by the word
    ‘Atman’ ?

Reply: No. for there are Srutis like ‘From which words fall back’,
‘That in which one sees nothing else’.
Question: How then do texts like ‘Atman alone is below ….’ and ‘It is Atman’ reveal Atman ?
Reply: This is no fault. For, the word (Atman), primarily used in the world of differences to denote individual soul as distinct from the body it possesses, is extended to indicate the entity which remains after the rejection of body and other not-selfs as not deserving that appellation, and is used to reveal what is really inexpressible by words”.

– Shankara – Ch. Bh. 7-1-3, p. 542.

 

Moksha, Bliss and Cessation of desires

 

Many teachers of Vedanta these days say that an enlightened person still goes through suffering and enlightenment is not a state of constant bliss. They also claim that enlightenment is not cessation of desires. (For e.g James Swartz in Shiningworld.com lists cessation of desires as one of the myths of enlightenment, in his 1 year course published in the website.)

I also found the following from Brihadaranyaka Upanishad Chapter 4, Section 3, verse 33 which contradicts this modern view.

“4.3.33   He who is perfect of body and prosperous among men. the ruler of others, and most lavishly supplied with all human enjoyments, represents the greatest joy among men. This human joy multiplied a hundred times makes one unit of joy for the Manes who have won that world of theirs. The joy of these Manes who have won that world multiplied a hundred times makes one unit of joy in the world of the celestial minstrels. This joy in the world of the celestial minstrels multiplied a hundred times makes one unit of joy for the gods by action those who attain their godhead by their actions. This joy of the gods by action multiplied a hundred times makes one unit of joy for the gods by birth, as well as of one who is versed in the Vedas, sinless and free from desire. This joy of the gods by birth multiplied a hundred times makes one unit of joy in the world of Prajapati (Viraj), as well as of one who is versed in the Vedas, sinless and free from desire. This joy in the world of Prajapati multiplied a hundred times makes one unit of joy in the world of Brahman (Hiranyagarbha), as well as of one who is versed in the Vedas, sinless and free from desire. This indeed is the supreme bliss. This is the state of Brahman, O Emperor, said ‘Yajnavalkya. I give you a thousand (cows), sir. Please instruct me further about liberation itself.’ At this Yajnavalkya was afraid that the intelligent Emperor was constraining him to finish with all his conclusions.”

Shankara also acknowledges this verse in his commentary on this Upanishad and further cites a verse from Mahabharata in his commentary:

“Vedavyasa also says, ‘The sense pleasures of this world and the great joys of heaven are not worth one-sixteenth part of the bliss that comes of the cessation of desire’ (Mbh. XII. clxxiii. 47).”

But many modern day Vedanta teachers today teach that bliss is not an attribute of truth at all. They even say that ‘Ananda’ from ‘Sat-chit-Ananda’ doesn’t translate to bliss (which is weird because the same word ananda is used in Tamil also, the language I speak, which means happiness)

Conclusion

I would like to thank you for your precious time spent reading this entire article. I would appreciate your thoughts on this so that it will clarify many questions raised by people who are sincere students of Vedanta.