Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

Vedanta - Part 53

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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III - Is not the elimination of thoughts the only means for self-realization?

There is also a widespread contention that enlightenment is the state of mental absorption called samädhi, which is the culmination of Sage Pataïjali’s añöänga-yoga. In that state, which is called nirvikalpa, the mind is free from thoughts and the subject-object distinction is absent. The reasoning is that the truth of the self is covered by våttis (thought-forms) and it has to be uncovered through stoppage of thoughts [333]. The misunderstanding is that thought divides ätmä and prevents ätmä from being partless (nirvikalpa).


The vision of the çästra is that while the knower, known, and knowledge are not separate from ätmä, ätmä is independent of all of them. The object of any thought is non-separate from the consciousness, and the knower of the object and the thought itself are also non-separate from it. In Mäëòükya Upaniñad and in the kärikä, the dreamer is cited as proof that there is no real division such as the dreamer, the dream and the dreamt, even though during the dream, the division was experienced to be real. The purpose of the dream example is to make us see that the waker’s experience of division is not any different. Nirvikalpa does not mean the absence of thought but refers to the fact that there is no real difference between the knower, knowledge and known. In Båhadäraëyaka Upaniñad (4.3.1-6), the invariable ätmä is presented as the light of awareness (jyotissvarüpaù). It is ever present and does not undergo any modification. It is always nirvikalpa, in spite of the apparent division. That is what is said in Kena Upaniñad: ‘in every form of knowledge, ätmä is understood by the discriminative as the invariable’ (2.4). Therefore, the knowledge is that ätmä is thought-free (nirvikalpa) in spite of the experience of thoughts by the I-sense.


Elimination of thoughts is not knowledge. It is also not self-discovery as thoughts do not cover ätmä. Thoughts come, I am. Thoughts vanish, I am. This is the same as when snake is, rope is and when snake is not, rope is. Therefore, the mistake lies in equating thoughts with I. If I do not know who I am, this original mistake cannot be corrected even if we remove the thoughts. Vedänta does not accept thoughts as the cause for sorrow. The mistake of taking thoughts for ätmä is the cause of sorrow.


Sorrow is a result of a mix up between the real and the apparent. A wave is not separate from or independent of water while the water does not depend upon the wave. So too, a thought is not independent of ätmä, while ätmä is independent of the thought. The mistake of taking the thought as ätmä is obviously the cause of sorrow. Even if thought is a problem, getting rid of the thoughts will not solve it. The thought, ‘I am small’ is the problem. Mistaking the thought for I is the problem and the solution is the knowledge, ‘I am real, all thoughts are apparent’.


To reiterate, the source of our problems is not the mind but the reality that we attach to the mind. The reality given to the mind is to be dropped by knowing the invariable ätmä manifest in all thoughts. Ätmä is not covered by thoughts even as the waves do not cover water. The waves need not subside for us to see the water; in waves themselves, we see water. Ätmä cannot be covered by anything except by ignorance. We are awareness, always free from thoughts, in spite of our thoughts. What is real is always one and one alone is real. It is this knowledge that nullifies the mind that stood against us owing to our ignorance. Thinking continues but it is known as mithyä or apparent. One’s shadow is not a problem when it is known as a shadow. Mind is not a problem when it is known to be mithyä.


333. This is called citta-våtti-nirodha.
Section III is based essentially on Swami Dayananda, The Teaching Tradition of Advaita Vedanta, pp. 11 – 12.

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