Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

Vedanta - Part 17

VEDĀNTA the solution to our fundamental problem
D. Venugopal

D. Venugopal is a student of Swami Paramarthananda and a direct disciple of Pujya Swami Dayananda. He has successfully completed the long-term residential course in Vedanta and Sanskrit conducted from May 2002 to July 2005 at the Arsha Vidya Gurukulam, Anaikatti.




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IX – Supportive practices

Initially, adequate will power is necessary to follow these practices. For developing the necessary will power, generally deliberate denial or tapas is adopted. This consists of fasting (upaväsa), which is control of the eating tongue; silence (maunam), which is control of the speaking tongue; pilgrimages (yäträ) for worship, which also trains the body to adjust to discomfort during travel and stay away from home.[107]


In addition to these, regulation of the breath (präëäyäma) is very useful for calming the mind and the body. Präëäyäma is one of the eight limbs of the Añöäëga Yoga.[108] Even though the vision of this yoga is at variance with Vedänta, the physical and mental practices of yoga are very beneficial to the seeker. Another simple but very effective practice to calm the mind is to be aware of the breath as it enters and leaves the tip of the nose [109]. Witnessing the breathing that is taking place without our effort makes us objective and free from tension. These are done before püjä, japa and upäsanä.


X- Dealing with our deep-seated problems

Now, we have a hold on the mind. But our mind retains the painful past impressions and emotions that we are unaware of at present. Hidden in the mind are the sense of helplessness and abandonment that it had not been able to handle especially in childhood. Deep hurt and guilt, which have been turned away from personal awareness, also lie inside.[110] These are called kañäya and they manifest most unexpectedly in our mind like the bubbles that suddenly come up in placid waters with a “plop” sound and unsettle it.


We cannot handle the deeply painful past that surfaces suddenly only now. We cannot also change what has already happened. If someone holds us, we can seek help from others to free ourselves. Here, the holder, the held and the holding are all the same. We can have only the understanding that certain problems are there. We can quietly recall the situations, the people and the events that disturbed us and accept them as they are like the way we accept the stars, the mountains and the birds. We neutralize our problem through accommodation.


We can also hope to find the solution through well-directed prayers.[111]. The basis of our entire prayer is acknowledgement of our helplessness. We seek grace not to change the mind but to accept it. When we plead and implore, our will willingly submits. The willing submission constitutes acceptance of what disturbs us and what is accepted ceases to be a problem. Then, our emotions start going hand in hand with our intellect.


We are likely to have a number of disturbances and many kinds of deficiencies. Every discipline is helpful provided we are clear about their purpose. They are the means and not the end. These practices are for freeing the mind from its subjective attitude of attachment and aversion, or for preventing it from being distracted, or for relieving it of hurt, guilt and other hidden painful emotions, or for harmonizing the body-mind-sense-complex. Çästra refers to them as for citta-çuddhi(mental purity) or antaùkaraëa-çuddhi(purity of the internal organ). [112] Any discipline is yoga if it is meant for this purpose and we may follow them for making our mind fit to receive the knowledge.


XI – The two committed life styles for the seeker

Bhagavadgétä specifies two committed life styles that the seeker of self-knowledge may follow. They are the life of activity with proper attitude to action and its results, which is karma-yoga and the life of renunciation, which is sannyäsa. As regards karma-yoga, the discipline and devotion inherent in it result in inner growth. This is called saàskära or refinement. We gain citta-çuddhi even while being engaged in actions and make the mind fit to receive knowledge. [113]


The ultimate life style is that of the sannyäsé. Çästra envisages it as the fourth and final stage in our life [114] in which we are allowed to renounce all forms of karma and upäsanä prescribed in the karma-käëòa for committing ourselves totally to the pursuit of knowledge in jïäna-käëòa. The four stages prescribed are, being the celibate (brahmacäré) for learning the çästra while staying with the guru and serving him, then being the house-holder (gåhastha) with wife and children for pursuing dharma, artha and käma, then being the dweller in the edge of the forest (vänaprastha) in preparation for sannyäsa and doing only the obligatory karma and finally, being the renunciate (sannyäsé) by giving up all karmas for the dedicated pursuit of self-knowledge for gaining mokña.


Renunciation of action is a natural consequence of karma-yoga. When the likes and dislikes are largely neutralized, we are ready to renounce action. It is the natural outcome of self-growth and is an indication of a mature mind that is not demanding. We want to wholeheartedly pursue self-knowledge to the exclusion of all other involvements.


Sannyäsa is ideally suited for the purpose, since in that stage of life we have no roles to play like the husband/wife or the father/mother. We have no possessions, obligations, relationships and transactions. Our needs are confined to mere subsistence. [115] We do not have any expectations and are not in competition with anyone. Our mental composure does not get upset. So, sannyäsa becomes the natural choice [116]. We would also notice that the essential qualifications prescribed by the çästra for the seeker make him as good as a sannyäsé. As we had seen earlier, uparati (withdrawal), which is prescribed for the seeker, means not only the spirit of renunciation but also renunciation as a way of life, which is sannyäsa.  


This does not, however, mean that as a householder (gåhasta), we cannot gain self-knowledge even when we learn systematically under a competent guru. We can, provided we have acquired the prescribed qualifications and discharge our responsibilities as a karma-yogé. We have the examples of Janaka and Açvapati who were steadfast jïänés even while being a king. Only, the gåhastha’s stage of life is neither meant for it nor is suited for it.


107.For a comprehensive account of the various religious disciplines, see Swamini Pramananda Saraswati and Sri Dhira Caitanya, Pürëa Vidyä, Part 7 titled “Isvara and Religious Discipline” pp. 68 –143.
108. See “Eight-limbed Yoga” in Swamini Pramananda Saraswati and Sri Dhira Caitanya,  “Pürëa Vidyä”, Part 7 titledIsvara and Religious Discipline”, p. 140-143. The eight limbs are (1) yama (restraint), which consists of ahiàsä (non-injury), satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing), brahmacarya (celibacy) and aparigraha (absence of greed); (2) niyama (observances), which consists of sauca (purity), santoña (contentment), tapas (austerity), syädhyäya (study) and Éçvara praëidhäna  (devotion to Éçvara); (3) äsana (body posture); (4) präëäyäma (breath control); (5) pratyähära (restraint of sense organs); (6) dhäraëa (fixing of mind on objects); (7) dhyäna (flow of thought on a particular subject without interruption); and (8) samädhi (absorption).
109. This is called präëa-vékñaëam.
110. The hurt is because of others doing things that should not have been done and not doing things that should have been done. The guilt is because of similar action and inaction by ourselves.
Kimahaà sädhu näkaravam | Kimahaà päpamakaravamiti | Why did I not do good (actions)?  Why did I do evil (actions)? (Taittiréya Upaniñad, Brahmavallé, 9.)

111.See Swami Dayananda, Morning Meditation Prayers.
113. Käyena manasä buddhyä kevalindriyairapi|
Yoginaù karma kurvanti saìgaà tyaktvätmasçudhhaye ||  Through body, mind, intellect and mere senses, yogins perform work without attachment, for the purification of the mind. (Bhagavadgétä, 5.11.)

114.See chapter 3, Varëäsrama-vyavasthä, in Swami Paramarthananda’s Introduction to Vedänta.

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Page last updated: 28-May-2015