Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

of shrI vidyAraNya svAmi

flower picture

A Summary

Chapter 1

The discriminative knowledge of the ultimate Reality

In the first verse of the first chapter shrI vidyAraNya salutes his Guru, shrI shankarAnanda, who 'dedicated his life to the task of destruction of the monster of primal ignorance together with its manifestation, the phenomenal universe'. This verse serves also as a prayer to the Supreme Being for the successful completion of the work, since the name 'shankarAnanda' also means the Supreme Brahman who is Bliss itself.

In the second verse the author says that the discriminative knowledge of the ultimate Reality (tattva) is being presented in this work for the easy understanding of those whose minds have been purified by service to the lotus feet of their Guru.

These two verses also bring out, by implication, the four topics that are required by tradition to be indicated at the commencement of any work (sambandha-catuShTaya), namely, the viShaya or subject-matter of the work, the prayojana or purpose of the work, the adhikArI or person for whom it is intended, and the sambandha or the connection of this work with vedAnta. �shankara� means paramAtmA, and �Ananda� stands for the jIvAtmA or individual soul. So the term shankarAnanda indicates the identity of the jIvAtmA and paramAtmA, which is the subject-matter of this work. The purpose of this work is the destruction of primal ignorance, which leads to the attainment of the supreme bliss of liberation. The person who has attained purity of mind is the adhikArI or the person for whom this work is intended. The sambandha is the fact that this work elucidates the teachings of the upaniShads for the easy understanding of the adhikArI.

The actual subject-matter of the work starts from verse 3. We experience innumerable objects in this world through our sense-organs in the waking state. The objects are different from one another, but the consciousness behind the senses, which is different from the objects experienced, is only one. The consciousness of A is not different from that of B or C. Since consciousness by itself has no distinguishing features, it cannot vary from person to person.

The same is the case with the dream state. The objects experienced in dream are transient and disappear when the dreamer wakes up, but the objects experienced in the waking state are relatively permanent. But the consciousness in both the states is the same.

When a person wakes up from deep sleep he remembers that he slept happily and did not know anything during his sleep. Remembrance is possible only of objects experienced earlier. It is therefore clear that in deep sleep absence of knowledge and happiness are experienced.

The same consciousness is present in all the three states, as is proved by the fact that a person identifies himself as the same in all the states. This consciousness is thus the same in all persons and at all times. It is therefore only one and is eternal, without any beginning or end. It is self-revealing and does not need another consciousness to reveal itself or its objects.

This consciousness alone remains unchanged in all the three states. The sense-organs are not present in the dream state and the mind itself is not experienced in deep sleep. Therefore this consciousness is the unchanging essence of every living being and it is therefore called the self. This self, or essence of all living beings, is of the nature of supreme bliss, for it is the object of unconditional love. All other objects and persons are loved only if they are conducive to one's own happiness. Even one's own body may be disliked when it causes suffering. But the self is never disliked; on the other hand it alone is the perennial object of love. Sometimes a person may say that he hates himself and wants to put an end to his life, but that is because he identifies himself with his body which is the cause of suffering due to disease, poverty or other reasons. From the fact that the Self is the object of the highest love it follows that it is of the nature of the highest bliss, since what every human being wants always is happiness. All other things, such as money, house, children and the like are desired only because they are expected to make the person happier; but happiness is desired for its own sake.

It has thus been established by reasoning that the individual self is of the nature of existence, consciousness and bliss. The upaniShads declare that the supreme Brahman is also of the same nature and that the individual self and Supreme Brahman are the same.

If an object exists at a particular place but is not actually seen, it must be due to some obstruction such as darkness or a wall in between. Similarly there must be some obstruction because of which the self, though existing, is not revealed to us. This obstruction is avidyA. This avidyA is beginningless in the sense that we cannot know how and when it originated, because it is logically prior to time.

PrakRiti is composed of the three guNas, namely, sattva, rajas and tamas and has in it the reflection of brahman which is pure consciousness and bliss. This PrakRiti is of two kinds. When the element of sattva is pure, it is known as mAyA; when impure, due to the admixture of rajas and tamas, it is called avidyA. brahman reflected in mAyA is the omniscient Ishvara, who controls mAyA. brahman reflected in avidyA (impure PrakRiti) is the jIva who is under the control of mAyA. jIvas are innumerable in number and are of different grades due to the different degrees of admixture of rajas and tamas. avidyA is the causal body or kAraNasharIra of the jIva. The word 'sharIra' means, by derivation, 'what is perishable'. avidyA is called sharIra or body because it will cease to exist on the dawn of self-realization. It is called 'kAraNa' or causal because it is the cause of the subtle and gross bodies. When the jIva identifies himself with the causal body he is called prAj~na. This happens in the state of deep sleep when the senses as well as the mind cease to function and there is only avidyA.

At the command of Ishvara the five subtle elements, namely, ether, air, fire, water and earth, arose from the part of PrakRiti in which tamas predominates, in order that every jIva may have experiences in accordance with its karma. The five subtle organs of sense, namely, those of hearing, touch, sight, taste and smell, respectively arose from the sattva part of the five subtle elements, ether, air, fire, water and earth. From a combination of the sattva parts of all the five subtle elements arose the antaHkaraNa or the mind. Though only one, the mind is given different names according to the different functions performed by it. When the mind cogitates it is known as the manas or mind. When it comes to a decision it is called buddhi or intellect. The function of storing information and experiences is called cittam. The notion of 'I-ness' which is behind all these functions is called ahankAra or ego.

From the rajas part of the subtle elements arose the subtle organs of action--- the organ of speech arose from the rajas part of ether, the hands from the rajas part of air, the feet from the rajas part of fire, the organ of excretion from the rajas part of water and the genital organ from the rajas part of earth. [Note--These, it should be noted, are not the physical organs bearing those names, but their subtle counterparts in the subtle body. The presiding deities of these organs are, in order, agni, indra, viShNu, yama and prajApati.]

From a combination of the rajas parts of all the five subtle elements arose prANa or the vital air. This prANa is given five different names according to the five different functions performed by it-- prANa, apAna, samAna, udAna and vyAna.

[Note-- These functions are described in shrI shankara's bhAshya on prashnopaniShad 3.5, thus:--- He (prANa) places apAna, a division of himself, in the two lower apertures, as engaged in the work of ejecting the excreta. prANa himself, who occupies the position of the sovereign, resides in the eyes and the ears and issues out through the mouth and nostrils. In the navel is samAna, which is so called because it assimilates all that is eaten or drunk, distributes them equally in all parts of the body and effects digestion. udAna, another division of prANa, moves throughout the body and functions upwards. It leads the soul out of the body at the time of death and takes it to other worlds according to one's puNya and pApa. vyAna regulates prANa and apAna and is the cause of actions requiring strength. According to sAnkhya, there are five more subsidiary vital forces known as nAga, kUrma, kRikara, devadatta and dhananjaya. Their functions are, respectively, causing vomiting, winking, creating hunger, producing yawning and nourishing the body.]

The five organs of sense, the five organs of action, the five vital airs (prANa, apAna, samAna, udAna and vyAna), mind and intellect--- all these seventeen together constitute the subtle body, which is known as sUkShma sharIra or linga sharIra. (Though the cittam and ahankAra, which are also names of the antaHkaraNa as stated earlier, are not specifically mentioned here, they should also be taken as included in mind and intellect).

When the jIva identifies himself with the subtle body, he is known as taijasa. This happens in the state of dream. Ishvara identified with the totality of subtle bodies is known as hiraNyagarbha. The difference between the two is the same as the difference between the individual and the collective. hiraNyagarbha is called 'samaShTi' or 'totality' because of his identification with all the subtle bodies of the universe. taijasa identifies himself only with his own subtle body and so he is called 'vyaShTi' or 'individual'.

After the five subtle elements came into existence, a process of combination of the elements took place. This process is known as 'quintuplication' or 'pa�cIkaraNam'. What happened was that each subtle element was first divided into two equal halves. One of the halves of each element was then divided into four equal parts, resulting in four one-eighth parts of each element. The other half of each element then combined with one-eighth part of each of the other elements. Thus, one half of the element 'earth' combined with one-eighth of each of the other four elements, to become the gross element 'earth'. The same thing happened with the other elements. As a result, each gross element has half of itself and one-eighth of each of the other four elements. All the gross objects of experience in the universe and all the gross bodies of all living creatures were created out of these five gross elements.

It has been said above that Ishvara identified with all the subtle bodies is called hiraNyagarbha. The same Ishvara identified with the totality of gross bodies is known as vaishvAnara. When the jIva identifies himself with his own gross body he is known as vishva.

The jIvas go helplessly from one birth to another, just as worms that have fallen into a river are swept from one whirlpool into another. As a result of good deeds performed in many births, a particular jIva may be fortunate to receive initiation from a guru who has himself realised brahman. Then he differentiates the self from the five sheaths which make up his gross and subtle bodies and attains the supreme bliss of liberation. The five sheaths are those of food, vital air, mind, intellect and bliss, known respectively in vedAnta as annamayakosha, prANamayakosha, manomayakosha, vij~nAnamayakosha and Anandamayakosha. The jIva, being enveloped in these five sheaths, identifies himself with them and forgets his real nature. This is the cause of repeated births and deaths, known as transmigration.

The five sheaths

The gross (or physical) body, which is the product of the gross elements, i.e., the elements after quintuplication, is known as the food sheath or annamayakosha. The five vital airs and the five organs of action, which are the products of the rajas aspect of PrakRiti, together constitute the vital sheath or prANamayakosha. The cogitating mind (manas) and the five organs of perception, which are the product of the sattva aspect of PrakRiti make up the mind sheath or manomayakosha. The buddhi or deciding intellect, together with the five organs of perception, forms the intellect sheath or vij~nAnamayakosha. The causal body (avidyA or kAraNasharIra) is the bliss sheath or Anandamayakosha.

The self, which is identical with the supreme brahman, should be realised by distinguishing it from the five sheaths in the following manner. The physical body, which is present in the waking state, is not experienced in the dream state, since the organs of sense and of action do not function then. In the state of deep sleep neither the physical body nor the subtle body is experienced, since the mind is also dormant then. The witnessing self, which is pure consciousness, is however, present in all the three states. Though the causal body, (avidyA or nescience) is present in the state of deep sleep, it is negated in the state of deep meditation, but the self is present in that state also. Thus all the five sheaths are seen to be impermanent and only the self is permanent. The self can thus be distinguished from the five sheaths (or the three bodies) through reasoning, just as the slender, internal pith of the mUnja grass is detached from its coarse external covering. The identity of the individual self and brahman is taught in sentences such as 'That thou art' in the upaniShads.

brahman associated with the tAmasic aspect of mAyA is the material cause (upAdAna-kAraNam) of the universe. brahman associated with the sAttvic aspect of mAyA is the efficient cause (nimitta-kAraNam) of the universe. brahman associated with (or reflected in) mAyA, is Ishvara and he is thus the material as well as the efficient cause of the universe. It is Ishvara that is primarily denoted by the word 'That' in the sentence (mahAvAkya) 'That thou art'. brahman reflected in avidyA is the jIva. The primary meaning of the term 'thou' in the above sentence is the 'jIva'. The difference between mAyA and avidyA has already been pointed out earlier.

In the sentence 'This is that devadatta', the word 'that' refers to a person named devadatta associated with a former time and place, whereas the word 'this' refers to the person seen at the present time and place. The sentence brings out the identity of the person seen at the two different times and places by ignoring the particular connotations of 'this' and 'that'. Similarly, the sentence 'That thou art' brings out the identity of brahman and the jIva by negating mAyA and avidyA, which are both �mithyA� (i.e, which cannot be characterised as either real or unreal). The truth of both jIva and Ishvara is thus the indivisible supreme brahman, who is pure existence, consciousness and bliss.

{This is further elaborated below, based on the Commentary of shrI jagadguru candrashekhara bhAratI on verses 243 to 251�of vivekacUDAmaNi of shrI shankara. The word tat stands for brahman as qualified by the functions of creation, sustenance and dissolution (i.e. Ishvara). The word tvam stands for the AtmA as qualified by the mental states of waking, dream and deep sleep (i.e. jIva). These two are of mutually opposed qualities, like the glow-worm and the sun, like the servant and the king, like the well and the ocean and like the atom and the earth (verse 244). There can be no identity between these two, which are the literal meanings (vacyArtha) of the words tat and tvam. The identity is only between their implied meanings (lakShyArtha). The opposition between the literal meanings is due to the upAdhi, since the literal meaning of tat is brahman with the upAdhi or limiting adjunct of mAyA and the literal meaning of tvam is AtmA with the limiting adjunct of the five sheaths. When these limiting adjuncts, which are not real from the absolute standpoint, are negated, there is neither Ishvara nor jIva. The two terms tat and tvam (That and Thou) are to be understood properly by their implied meanings in order to grasp the import of the absolute identity between them. This is to be done neither by total rejection of their literal meaning nor by total non-rejection, but by a combination of both.

Implied meanings are of three kinds:--�jahal-lakShaNa, ajahal-lakShaNa and jahadajahal-lakShaNa.

jahal-lakShaNa-- The literal meaning is to be rejected and some other meaning consistent with it is to be adopted. An example is�gangAyAm ghoShaH, the literal meaning of which is�'a hamlet on the river Ganga'. Since there cannot be a hamlet on the river itself, it is the bank of the river that is meant. Here the literal meaning of the word �Ganga� has to be given up completely and the implied meaning 'bank' has to be adopted.

ajahal-lakShaNa-- Without giving up the literal meaning of the word, what is implied by it is also adopted to get the meaning intended to be conveyed. An example is�the sentence, 'The red is running', which is intended to convey that the red horse is running. Here the literal meaning of the word �red� is retained and the implied word 'horse' is added to get the correct sense of the sentence.

jahadajahal-lakShaNa-- Here a part of the literal meaning is retained and the other part discarded. The sentence 'This is that devadatta' is interpreted by using this lakShaNa. The meaning intended to be conveyed by this sentence is that devadatta who is seen at the present time in the present place is the same as the person who was seen earlier in another place. The literal meaning of the word 'this' is Devadatta associated with the present time and place. The literal meaning of the word 'that' is devadatta associated with the past time and some other place. Since this sentence purports to convey the identity of the person seen in different places at different times, we get this meaning by discarding the reference to the place and time conveyed by the words 'this' and 'that' and retaining the reference to devadatta. This is also known as bhAgatyAga-lakShaNa. The meaning of the sentence tat tvam asi is obtained by using this method. Just as in the sentence 'This is that devadatt' the identity is stated by rejecting the contradictory qualities, so also in the sentence 'That thou art' the contradictory qualities (namely, the limiting adjuncts) are rejected. Thus it follows that the jIva and brahman are in essence one when the limiting adjuncts, mAyA and the five sheaths, are rejected.}

The realization of the identity of the individual self (jIvAtmA) and brahman (paramAtmA) is liberation. This is not some state to be attained after death in some other world, but it is what is to be realised during one's lifetime itself. This is known as liberation-in-life or jIvanmukti. The means for this realization are three -- hearing (shravaNa), reflection (manana) and unbroken meditation (nididhyAsana). 'Hearing' is not merely listening to the teacher who expounds the upaniShads, but arriving at the conviction that the purport of all the upaniShads is the identity of the individual self and brahman. 'Reflection' is churning in the mind what has been heard from the teacher, by making use of arguments in a constructive manner, to arrive at the conviction of its correctness. 'Meditation' is keeping the mind fixed on the thought of brahman, uninterrupted by any other thought.

The result achieved by �hearing,� etc.

�Hearing� removes the doubt whether the upaniShadic text which is the pramANa (source of knowledge) expounds brahman or some thing else. This doubt is known as pramANa asambhAvanA, or the doubt about the pramANa itself.

�Reflection� removes the doubt whether brahman and the jIva are the same or not. This doubt is called prameya asambhAvanA.

�Meditation� is intended to remove wrong notions such as 'The universe is real; the difference between brahman and jIva is real', which are contrary to the teachings of the upaniShads, by developing concentration of the mind. Such wrong notions are known as viparItabhAvanA.

Thus the purpose of hearing, reflection and meditation is the removal of obstacles in the form of doubts and wrong notions that stand in the way of Self-realization.

When the mind gradually leaves off the ideas of the meditator and the act of meditation and gets merged in the Self which is the object of meditation, it is called the state of samAdhi. In this state the mind is steady like the flame of a lamp kept in a place where there is no breeze at all. This has been mentioned in bhagavadgIta, ch. 6, verse 19. Though in this state there is no subjective cognition of the mental function having the Self as object, its continued existence in this state is inferred from the recollection after emergence from samAdhi. This shows that only the modifications of the mind cease in samAdhi, but the mind itself is not dissolved. By such a samAdhi, known as nirvikalpa samAdhi, all the accumulated karma and all desires, which are the seeds of transmigratory existence, are destroyed. Then the mahAvAkya 'That thou art' gives rise to the direct realization of brahman. The indirect knowledge of brahman, received from the guru, burns up all sins committed up to the attainment of that knowledge. The direct realization of brahman totally destroys nescience which is the root cause of the cycle of repeated births and deaths.

Thus the Self should be distinguished from the five sheaths and the mind should be concentrated on the Self in order to attain liberation from bondage.

End of Chapter 1

Chapter 2

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