Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

The Path of Knowledge (j~nAnamArga)
Professor Gummuluru Murthy

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(From a post to the Advaitin Egroup May 2003.)

Although bhakti and j~nAna ultimately are one and the same, in a dualistic jagat, leading to that ultimate realization, we necessarily treat the bhakti and j~nAna to be separate paths. Bhakti, without j~nAna, can lead to fanaticism. The importance of vichAra, investigation, is stressed in the upanishads, by shri shankara, by shri ramaNa and many teachers. shri shankara says very emphatically that j~nAnam alone leads to and is mokSha. [He is saying this in the context of karma and not bhakti]. j~nAna-mArga is full of hazards. The kaTha upanishad says it is like walking on a razor's edge.

I would like to use the kaTha upanishad 2.i.1 to bring out the difficult nature of the vichAra-mArga and how it is that only certain discerning people would be successful in such approach. The kaTha u. verse also discusses the technique used by this discerning person for SELF-realization.

First, the verse from kaTha upanishad:

ParA~nchi khAnivyatRRiNAt svayambhUs
tasmAt parA~Npashyati nAntarAtman
kashchiT dhIraH pratyagAtmAnamaikshad
AvRRittachakshuramRRitatvamichChan 2.i.1

Translation: The Self-existent Lord created the sense organs (including the mind) with the defect of an out-going disposition; therefore (man) perceives (things) outwardly, but not the inward Self. A certain dhIra (discerning man), desirous of immortality, turned his senses (including the mind) inward and realized the inner Self.

Lord Yama is saying (in teaching nAchiketa) that the sense-organs of man, including the mind, have one major defect; they are all cursed to be out-going or directed outward. Therefore they give man experience of the outer world but not of the inner Self. shri shankara's bhAShya on the first portion of the verse says:

tasmAt parA~N, parAgrUpAn, anAtmabhUtAn shabdAdin pashyati.
upalabdhe, upalabdhA na antarAtman

Translation: Therefore (they, the sense organs) see (i.e. experience) the external (i.e. the outer world of sound etc.) which are the not-self, but not the inner Self, i.e. the experiencer.

So, only certain people can turn the sense-organs inward. The upanishad calls them kashciT dhIra (certain wise, discerning man). Although there is no exact translation in English for the sanskrit word dhIra, 'discerning man' comes close to it. dhIra is a spiritually mature person. In this dhIra, there is combination of knowledge, courage and disciplined emotion. In the first-half of next verse (kaTha u. 2.i.2), Lord Yama says what a spiritually immature person (such a person is called bAla, child) will suffer:

parAchaH kAmanAnuyanti bAlAste mRRityoryAnti vitatasya pAsham

Translation: Children (men of immature spirituality) pursue the external pleasures and they fall into the outstretched snare of death.

shri shankara's bhAShya on sanatsujAtIyam of mahAbhArata describes asura-s, rAkShasa-s, evil people as asuShu ramyanti ityasurAH: people who derive pleasures from the sense organs are called asura-s and and shri shankara continues to say that the asura-s undergo repeated births and deaths.

In the second half of the kaTha u. 2.i.2, Lord Yama says the characterisic of the dhIra:

atha dhIrA amRRitatvaM viditvA dhruvam adhruveShviha na prArthayante

Translation: dhIrA-s, on the contrary, having realised the eternally immortal, do not crave for non-eternal things here.

This dhIra is the RRiShi who had the vision of the Self. They do not leave any trace of themselves nor or they interested in leaving any trace. The only sign we have of this dhIra is the truth visualized by him. The extraordinary thing about this dhIra is that he turned the energy of the sense-organs and the mind inward - AvRRittachakshuH. What he is seeking is immortality - amRRitatvam ichChan. What he saw inside himself is the inner Self - pratyagAtmAnamaikshad. The technique used by this dhIra is turning the sense organs and the mind inward (AvRRittachakshuH). shri shankara, commenting on this portion of this verse says:

evamsvabhAve api sati lokasya, kashchit nadyAH pratishrotaH
pravartanam iva, dhIro, dhImAn, vivekI, pratyagAtmAnam ..
AvRRittacakshuH - AvRRittam vyAvRRittam chakshuH shrotrAdikam
indriyajAtamasheShaviShayAt yasya sa AvRRittachakshuH - sa evam
saMskRRitaH pratyagAtmAnam pashyati. na hi bAhyaviShayAlocana-
paratvam pratyagAtmekshaNam ca ekasya saMbhavati.
kimartham punaH ittham mahatA prayAshena svabhAvapravRRitti-
nirodham kRRitvA dhIraH pratyagAtmAnam pashyati it, uchyate;
amRRitatvam, amaraNadharmatvam nityasvabhAvatvam ichChan AtmanaH.

Translation - Even though people are of this nature, yet, like the technique of making the rivers flow in the opposite direction, the dhIra, the one endowed with intelligence, with discrimination, realizes the inner Self by becoming AvRRittachakshuH. (One who completely turns away all his sense organs like eyes, ears, etc from all sense objects is AvRRittachakshu.) Thus becoming purified, he realizes the inner Self. It is, verily, not possible for one and the same person to be absorbed in the thought of external sense objects and realize the inner Self.

For what purpose, then, does the dhIra, restraining thus with enormous effort his natural propensities, realize the inner Self? The answer is: desirous of immortality, deathlessness, which is one's own eternal nature.

Such is the approach of the so-called j~nAna-mArga for Self-realization. All of us, without exception, have to follow that "path" at some stage or other either in this or future lives.

[Translations from Swami Ranganathananda: ‘Message of the upanishads’.]

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