Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

shravaNa, manana and nididhyAsana
Dr. Shyam Subramanian

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Read Shyam's blog 'Self Knowledge'.
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(Posted to the Advaitin Egroup, April '09)

shravaNa means hearing of course – but it is not simply a matter of the physical act of hearing. It is not meant that a mahAvAkya such as tat tvam asi is some sort of a Sanskritized ‘abracadabra’ where, as soon as those words are heard by a qualified seeker, the veils of ignorance will magically part and the Truth be revealed. ‘Hearing’ in this case means ‘understanding’.
If you say e = mc2 to a novice student, he may have heard you alright but he has not really ‘heard’ i.e. he has not understood what you are saying. So the teacher has to unfold the equation. Similarly, tat tvam asi has to be unfolded – what is tat, what is tvam, and what is this aikyam [identitity]. In what sense is one to understand this aikyam?
The student’s difficulty in understanding each of three components must be carefully anticipated by a qualified teacher so that this equation is communicated to the student with caution and clarity. This entire process is shravaNa alone.

In the words of the pa~nchadashI:
"The mode of the introduction of the mind of the student from parokSha [indirect] j~nAna to aparokSha [direct] j~nAna is indicated in the sixth chapter of the chhAndogya upaniShad, while Uddalaka Aruni instructs the student Svetaketu. While the indirect knowledge of Brahman is declared in such statements of the Upanishad as ‘Satyam-j~nAnam-Anantam Brahma,’ – Truth-Knowledge-Infinity is Brahman – the direct knowledge of it is the theme of the sixth chapter of the chhAndogya upaniShad, which expatiates upon the great sentence, ‘Tat-Tvam-Asi’ - ‘That Thou Art’. The demonstrative pronouns, ‘That’ and ‘‘Thou’, refer to a remote object and an immediate object respectively, as is well known. In this sentence, ‘That’ indicates Ishvara, or God, and the word ‘Thou’ indicates jIva, or the individual. The separative connotation of these two indicative words may appear to prevent the identification of Ishvara and jIva, since, at least from the point of view of the jIva, Ishvara is a remote object who existed even before creation, and the jIva is a subsequent manifestation posterior to creation. But the inseparability of the cause and its effect requires the recognition of an identical substance present both in God, the Creator, and the individual, the created embodiment.

“The usual illustration offered to explain this basic identity of this Supreme Cause with the individual effect is the way in which we recognize the identity of a person here and now with the very same person seen somewhere else at a different time. In the identification of the single person in this manner, the associations of the person with a different place and a different time from the place and the time in which he is recognized now, are ignored, and only the person concerned is taken into consideration, for instance, when we say ‘This is that Devadatta’, indicating thereby that this Devadatta who is in this place at this moment is the same Devadatta who was seen at some other time earlier in some other place. In a similar manner, the identity of the basic Substance in God and the individual is established by a separation of this Substance from the limiting adjuncts of remoteness and immediacy associated with God and the individual - Ishvara and the jIva."

Once shravaNam has been completed the job of the shastra and the guru is over. In the Kena Upanishad, the student actually asks the Guru after the teaching is concluded: “Sir, please tell me about the Upanishad” and the guru confirms that “I have already given you that instruction about Brahman”!
Suppose a student says: I have completely understood tat tvam asi – now what? Well, now you go back to class and hear all over again! – why? Because you still have understood nothing! If tat tvam asi is understood, it means I have understood myself to be akarta [not a doer], abhokta [not an enjoyer], nitya asa~Ngah [forever unattached], nitya shuddhi [ forever pure], and nitya mukta [forever free] etc. If after this my question is ‘what now?’, then with certitude this understanding is incomplete.
Here, we need to understand the relationship between knowledge and its result because there seem to be some misconceptions about this in many people. This relationship is of two types: chodya-chodaka sambandha and pratipAdya-pratipAdaka sambandha.

Suppose I am given a map from Google maps showing how to reach Pittsburgh from Philadelphia . The knowledge gained from this map does not actually get me to Pittsburgh. The map has only informed or better prepared me for that particular journey. In order to "experience" or "reach" Pittsburgh I now need to act on that knowledge.  Similarly, a cookbook knowledge does not allow me to taste a gulab jamun [ a dessert made with rosewater syrup]. I have to actually make it. These are examples of the former type of knowledge (chodya-chodaka, goal oriented).

Fortunately, this is not the case with brahmavidyA – this is a extremely crucial point to bear in mind. This type of knowledge belongs to the latter type or pratipAdya-pratipAdaka. Here the knowledge itself gives the result. How is this possible? This is possible ONLY when the thing to be attained is already a given, is already pre-attained, but we are unaware of it due to ignorance. The best example of this is also Adi Shankara’s favorite example of the tenth man. Ten men cross the river and each of them tries to get a head count to verify that all ten men reached the other bank safely. But in the process, each forgets to count himself and so always falls short by one. A competent person in whom these men have faith tells the man who is counting that ‘you alone are that tenth man’. Here, the knowledge conveyed by the words “That thou art” itself brings about the end of the search.

pratipAdya means 'that which is to be revealed', while pratipAdaka means 'that which reveals'. The moment we catch the implied meaning, (not the primary meaning) of tat tvam asi, that very moment the Truth is as though attained. So, knowledge gained from shravaNa alone is primary. Hence alone does Shankara begin the brahmasutra bhAShya with his famous treatise on adhyAsa because, without establishing adhyAsa as a fact, there is no way to establish the knowledge gained from the mahAvAkya-s, which is direct and immediate, as the means to liberation or mukti. And, once it is established that the only and immediate means to mokSha is understanding of the mahAvAkya-s, then there is only one primary means to mokSha and that is shravaNa. If someone thinks that, after getting knowledge one has to perform some actions or sAdhanA, then more shravaNa is needed, till the real implication has been correctly and comprehensively understood. Hence alone does shraddhA assume paramount importance – for the words to reveal themselves, one must surrender to them and allow them to work.
Now there is a misconception among many (even within the fold of Vedanta) that the knowledge of ‘tat tvam asi’ so gained is only ‘indirect’  or ‘intellectual’ – parokSha j~nAnam - and it has to be converted by meditation into direct knowledge or aparokSha j~nAnam. Or that mere book knowledge only produces j~nAnam and what is needed is put that into practice to gain vij~nAna! Some stock examples will also be provided, such as that one will not get a taste of a mango fruit by mere book knowledge - only by tasting it can it be known. Shankara categorically dismisses this (in his upadesha sAhasrI):

The Bliss of liberation is not obtained after ascertaining the meaning of the sentence (tat tvam
asi) unlike the satisfaction which is felt by eating.
(Sankara's reply)
Indirect knowledge, it is true, is the result produced by the sentences regarding the non-Self but it is not
so in the case of those regarding the Innermost self. It is, on the other hand, direct and certain knowledge like that in the case of the tenth boy.

Proponents of such types of misconstrued and misconceived views of Vedanta will say shravaNam is hearing the mahAvAkya, mananam is understanding these words and nididhyAsanam is intensely meditating on those words till a mystic experience of the Atman – Atma sAkShAtkAra [realization of Atma] - is attained… at some point in time. What leads to mokSha, then, is the actual special Atman "experience" brought about by the meditation (nididhyAsana), not the understanding of the mahAvAkya (shravaNa) itself!
Once again, this is extremely misleading. Using the tenth man example, parokSha j~nAnam or indirect knowledge is simply the instruction that the tenth man very much is alive – confirming the presence of the tenth man. So when the shruti talks about brahman as the substratum, as satyam, that ‘sarvam khalvidam Brahman’ [all this Brahman alone] etc, that is parokSha j~nAnam. What then is aparokSha j~nAnam? The understanding that ‘that’ Brahman is ‘me’ alone! - in other words the understanding of ‘aham brahmAsmi’. Again, going back to the tenth man example, when the true identity of the tenth man is revealed and that too as myself and when this is understood, that alone is aparokSha j~nAnam.

Once I have gained the conviction based on my shraddhA [faith] in the shabda pramANa [scripture as a source of knowledge], the sense of closure to my seeking alone is the freedom resulting from the knowledge that I am what I was seeking. Shankara affirms this as much in the vAkya vRRitti: “When, as explained above, the mutual identity between the two words ‘thou’ and ‘that’ is comprehended, then the idea ‘I am not Brahman’, entertained by ‘thou’, shall immediately end.” And again the same text goes into great length to provide a template, as it were, for the teacher to unfold the intended meaning of the mahAvAkya so as to confer this liberating knowledge. So once again, the mahAvAkya itself and hence shravaNa alone is the primary means to mokSha.
Without shravaNa, without gaining a clear and complete and comprehensive understanding of the words of the mahAvAkya-s (which the Upanishads or shruti itself says is the only means to know Brahman, e.g. Br. Up 3.9.26: I ask you of that puruSha who is to be known ONLY from the Upanishads), there can be no j~nAnam. And without j~nAnam, there can be no mokSha. Once this understanding (and to say ‘intellectual’ understanding is a tautology, since there is no other kind of understanding) has taken place, there is nothing more to be known, and nothing more to be done.
Then what role does manana and nididhyAsana play? Their need arises from the fact that there may be lack of either clarity, or conviction, in this knowledge. Lack of clarity is in the form of doubts. After all, the Universe is 14 billion years old and I am lucky if have 14 more years to live! How can I possibly resolve this Universe into myself? Solar and nuclear powers – so immense – and yet the Upanishad says I verily am the Source of this power… when I cannot bench press 50 pounds! Isn’t this all quite far-fetched? is it possible all this could be a farce? In what way can I understand myself to be equated to God? How can God be dismissed as being unreal? Many, many such doubts may be thrown up again and again by the mind and this is the job of yukti [reasoning] or mananam. It is not an independent logical analysis but a progressive and gradual removal of these internal intellectual  obstacles by taking recourse to the teaching already assimilated during the process of shravanam - by a constant dwelling on the Vedantic teaching and by means of questioning the guru as well.
Finally nididhyAsana is needed, fully to internalize and assimilate the teaching. In other words, anubhava [personal experience], which involves assimilating the knowledge as one's own. Once again this anubhava is confused by people as meaning some kind of mystic experience that comes and goes. One keeps on waiting for the Atman experience – that grand ‘promised’ mega-spectacle when the elusive Atman finally reveals itself in all its glory and majesty as a reward for years of effort - which once and for all and forever will end this sense of duality. Sadly this itself is one of the biggest obstacles.

My waiting itself is a sign of my habitual notions holding sway over my antaHkaraNa [mind – seat of thought and feelings]. We may keep getting plagued by our saMsAric anubhava as in ‘I am limited’, ‘I am small’, ‘I am mortal’, ‘I am inadequate’, ‘the world is a source of grief unto me’. From beginningless time, these vAsanA-s have led to a buildup of habitual notions which do not easily and readily go away. As Shankara says in the Br. Up 1.4.10: "Moreover, false notions do not arise in a Realized Man… however sometimes memories, due to the impressions of false notions antecedent to the dawning of knowledge, simulating those notions, suddenly appear and throw him into the error of regarding them as actual false notions."

What is the remedy then so that I can abide in the pUrNatvam, the wholeness that is ever my True intrinsic nature?? Directing my thoughts at all times towards the knowledge of my true nature, that which has already been doubtlessly assimilated by me (through the process of shravaNa) will alone enable an abidance in that knowledge, which is in the form of full freedom from all limitations. Until when? Until it is spontaneous and the saMsAra bhAvana [ the experience of 'saMsAra' as something real ] goes away. What should be clear here is that, for nididhyAsana, the understanding of tat tvam asi already needs to be complete! One cannot NOT know and do nididhyAsana. There is no enquiry, no vichAra involved here. ‘’Aham BrahmAsmi’ has to be already completely understood and known to me as a fact. The job of nididhyAsana then is only this: to not allow my habitual tendencies to come in the way. As Shankara says in the Br.Up1.4.7, the j~nAnI needs to “regulate the train of remembrance of the knowledge of the Self (Atma vij~nAna smRRiti) by means of renunciation and dispassion.” And hence alone does
vairAgya and saMnyAsa become critical, nay indispensable, here.

Now suppose one takes a position: OK, I have no interest in shravaNa, in scriptural teachings, I will resort to some other means to control the mind and its flow of thoughts so that they be directed inwards. Won’t I gain a vision of the Atman? Shankara categorically dismisses this: "for it is not a means to liberation... there is no other means for the control of mental states except the knowledge of the Self and the train of remembrance about it"

Note here the very crucial point that knowledge of the Self must already be present for nididhyAsana to occur. An ignorant jIva – one lacking in self-knowledge – cannot do nididhyAsana. Hence, there is no equating nididhyAsana with meditation - Yogic, etc or any other method that has not been preceded by vedAnta shravaNa-manana. The steady recollection of Self-knowledge, by a constant flow of the mind towards the Self, enabled with renunciation and dispassion, serves to counter the residual effects of prior karma. When I have a thought, it is consciousness plus the content of the thought. My attention previously being focused solely on the content, the consciousness was as though hidden. Similarly, when I perceive an object, it is existence plus name and form. But my attention was previously exclusively on the name and form and the existence aspect is as though hidden. nididhyAsana then is an abidance on my part in the Atma, which is ever-experienced; in the recognition that, at all times, the existence principle or consciousness principle is in and through all thoughts and all perceptions, being of the nature of one’s own Self which is limitless. Then, as the bhaja govindam says: yasya brahmani ramate chittam nandati nandati nandatyeva – He alone is in Bliss, whose mind is steadily established in Brahman.

Hari OM Shri Gurubhyo namah, Shyam

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