Wednesday, 27 December 2006

Is there really any difference between the advaita taught by Sri Ramana and that taught by Sri Adi Sankara?

In a comment on the post Your comments and questions are welcome (1), Ganesan wrote:

I see certain differences between the traditional advaita of Sankara and that taught by Bhagavan, especially the self-enquiry, which does not subscribe to the idea of meditation on the mahavaykas. Further, Bhagavan's teachings are extremely subjective, directing one's attention to the self.
Is there really any essential difference between the advaita taught by Sri Ramana and that taught by Sri Adi Sankara? I do not believe that there can be, because differences can appear only in duality, and are impossible in the fundamental non-dual reality, which underlies the appearance of all duality. Non-duality or advaita is the true state of absolute oneness, in which no division, distinction or difference can even appear to exist.

Any differences that we might imagine to exist between the advaita taught by Sri Ramana and that taught by Sri Adi Sankara exist only in our understanding of their teachings, and not in the non-dual truth that they actually taught. One of the principal causes of our failure to recognise the essential oneness of the non-dual truth taught by all true sages or jnanis lies not in their teachings but only in the so-called "traditional" interpretation of their teachings.

Most people who attempt to interpret or explain the teachings of sages have not experienced the non-dual reality that those sages experience as their own true self or essential being, and hence their interpretation is coloured by their lack of true inward clarity. As Sri Sadhu Om used to say, "The followers are the swallowers of the master's principles". That is, most people who claim to follow any true sage have failed to understand the true import of such sages' teachings, and hence they have distorted and misinterpreted those teachings when they have attempted to explain them.

Ganesan writes that he sees "certain differences between the traditional advaita of Sankara and that taught by Bhagavan, especially the self-enquiry, which does not subscribe to the idea of meditation on the mahavaykas". This highlights one of the fundamental flaws in the so-called "traditional" interpretation of the teachings of Sri Adi Sankara and other ancient sages who experienced and expressed the truth of non-dual self-knowledge and taught the means to attain it. Most "traditional" interpreters of the advaita philosophy failed entirely to understand what the ancient sages taught as the means to attain the non-dual experience of true self-knowledge, but fortunately for us Bhagavan Sri Ramana has clarified the only true means to attain this experience in a very simple, lucid, explicit and unambiguous manner.

If we have read and understood the teachings of Sri Ramana correctly, and if we then read the teachings of Sri Adi Sankara and other ancient sages, we can clearly recognise the truth that those ancient sages taught the same means as Sri Ramana, namely the practice of atma-vichara or 'self-enquiry'. For example, in verse 11 of Vivekachudamani, which I have quoted and explained on page 429 of my book, Happiness and the Art of Being, Sri Adi Sankara says:
Action [karma] is [prescribed only] for [achieving] chitta-suddhi [purification of mind] and not for [attaining] vastu-upalabdhi [direct knowledge or experience of the reality, the true substance or essence, which is absolute being]. The attainment of [this non-dual experience of] the reality [can be achieved only] by vichara and not at all by [even] ten million actions.
From this verse, it is clear not only that Sri Sankara taught that vichara or 'investigation' is the only means by which we can attain the non-dual experience of true self-knowledge, but also that such vichara is not any form of action. What is this action-free practice of vichara or 'investigation'? So long as our attention is directed towards anything other than our own self or essential being, it assumes the form of a thought or mental activity. Therefore the only form of attention or 'investigation' (vichara) which is not an action is self-attention, that is, attention or consciousness that rests in itself, its own essential being or 'am'-ness.

This is the practice of atma-vichara or 'self-enquiry' that was taught both by Sri Sankara and by Sri Ramana as the sole means by which we can attain non-dual self-knowledge. In other words, since our goal is non-dual self-consciousness, the only means by which we can attain it is to cultivate or practise the same non-dual self-consciousness, which is not a state of action or 'doing', but only a state of just being (summa iruppadu).

Meditation upon a mahavayka such as 'I am brahman' is an action, a process of thinking or imagination (bhavana), and hence it can never lead us to the non-dual state of just being. Such meditation may help to strengthen our conviction that we are brahman, the absolute reality, but once we are convinced of this truth we should give up attending to the thought 'I am brahman' and should instead attend only to our own essential being, our non-dual self-consciousness 'I am'.

As Ganesan rightly observes, "Bhagavan's teachings are extremely subjective, directing one's attention to the self". This directing of our attention towards our own essential self is indeed the true purpose of all the mahavaykas such as 'it you are' (tat tvam asi) and 'I am brahman', so by directing our attention only towards our own self Sri Ramana has achieved exactly what the mahavaykas were originally intended to achieve.

8 comments:

Michael James - www.happinessofbeing.com said...

True advaita or non-duality can in fact be experienced only in the state of perfect self-attention or self-consciousness, as explained in my next post, What is advaita?

Ganesan said...

You say in your new book available in the website:

"The term
'self-attention' denotes the knowing aspect of the practice,
while the term 'self-abidance' denotes its being aspect. Since
our real self, which is pure consciousness, knows itself not by
an act of knowing but merely by being itself, the state of
knowing self is just the state of being self. Thus attending to
consciousness and abiding as consciousness are one and the
same thing. All the other words that Sri Ramana used to
describe the practice are intended to be clues that help to
clarify what this state of 'self-attention' or 'self-abidance' really
is."
Does not what you say constitute the crux of, almost a concise commentary, of the benedictory verse of Ulladu Narpathy, where Bhaghvan totally disowns the duality of Awareness of Being and the Being itself? Is this also a pointer towards the fact that the Self is not an object of knowledge, but knowledge or awareness per se? Since the Self or Being is not a conceptual knowledge admitting of thought process and a thinker both of which are different sides of the same coin of the deluded self, all that one has to do is not to do anything but Be. Am I correct? There is a beautiful, similar, verse, the benedictory verse of the Tamil Classic, Thiruvilayadal Puranam, which precisely describes the self as one of unknowable knower and unthought thinker. I shall try to quote it.

Ganesan said...

Your book is astoundingly simple and profound. As and when some idea, intuition or understanding is required clarification or confirmation, could I write this on this forum? You need not answer all the questions if they can be related to some central theme which gets repeated in different ways, but could reply to the essence.

with regards and love
Sankarraman

Krishna said...

Dear Michael

I have started to start studying your blog messages from the beginning one by one and hence commenting on the first message .

Regarding Sri Sankara and Sri Bhagawan I feel both are talking of the same message i.e the Self but unfortunately the mistakes is in the way some of the followers of advaita have handled this message of Vedanta .There are quite a few mature teachers in the traditional lineage who speak in the same tone as what Bhagawan did and it is a great blessing if one gets to hear their talks or read their works or be near them .

Krishnanand

Michael James - www.happinessofbeing.com said...

Dear Krishnanand,

What you write in the last sentence of your comment is no doubt true. In this article I certainly did not intend to imply that all teachers in the traditional lineage had misinterpreted the teachings of Sri Adi Sankara and other ancient sages, and hence I was careful to write 'most people' when referring to those who had failed to understand the true import (and particularly the true practice) of their teachings.

I was also careful to put the word "traditional" in quotation marks, and I used the adjective 'so-called' to describe the "traditional" interpretation that I was writing about, in order to indicate that I did not consider it to be the real or only "traditional" interpretation of advaita philosophy and practice.

The reason why, when referring to some of the prevalent misinterpretations of what those ancient sages had taught us as the practical means whereby we can attain the non-dual experience of true self-knowledge, I described such misinterpretations as 'the so-called "traditional" interpretation' of their teachings was that I was using the word "traditional" here with specific reference to the words that Ganesan had used in his comment, in which he implied that "meditation on the mahavaykas" was the practical means taught by the "traditional advaita of Sankara".

Michael

Dr.PVSSN RAJU said...

Bhagawan's way of helping the disciples is different from Adi Shankara.Bhagawan always tried to create circumstances that directs
the disciple's attention towards
the self whatever the context may be.His is an existential help to attain self-knowledge rather than convincing the people intellectually about the presence of self.His basic teaching of self -enquiry is a nondual existential method to find the
self where ego is not kept intact.
The very existence of the ego is questioned.In self-enquiry our attention is directed selfwards,so the flow of attention from self
towards the objects is curtailed
because of which nourishment to ego
is stopped and gradually ego withers away.Even now Bhagawan is transfering his pure conscious energy to many of us in silence.
His medium of teaching seems to be mainly silence.He rarely preferred
to utter words.He tried his best to transform people through energy
transfer rather than convincing them intelectually through teaching.This is where he differs from Adi Shankara who is enlightened and scholorly who
preferred intellectual convincing
of the people about the existence of self rather than giving them a taste of self-knowledge.

Anonymous said...

One must trace the ‘I’ thought to its source. When this is done, with constant and persistent inquiry, the distinction between the thinker and thought is found to vanish and then the Self which is pure experience will be realised. This path is the same as the asparsa-yoga taught by Gaudapada. It is the path that leads to non-duality, the path which takes us away from the non-Self.

From "The silent power" (Selections from The Mountain Path and The Call Divine), Bhagavan Sri Ramana, The Light Divine Dr. T.M.P. Mahadevan. pag 169

This path is the same as the asparsa-yoga taught by Gaudapada ?

Sanjay Lohia said...

Fellow travellers, as I am trying to read some of the old articles by Michael, as part of my manana I will try to comment on the portions which I find interesting. For example, the following extract from this article may interest us:

In verse 11 of Vivekachudamani, which I [Micheal] have quoted and explained on page 429 of my book, Happiness and the Art of Being, Sri Adi Sankara says:

Action [karma] is [prescribed only] for [achieving] chitta-suddhi [purification of mind] and not for [attaining] vastu-upalabdhi [direct knowledge or experience of the reality, the true substance or essence, which is absolute being]. The attainment of [this non-dual experience of] the reality [can be achieved only] by vichara and not at all by [even] ten million actions.

From this verse, it is clear not only that Sri Sankara taught that vichara or 'investigation' is the only means by which we can attain the non-dual experience of true self-knowledge, but also that such vichara is not any form of action.

My reflections: Therefore the path taught to us by Bhagavan Ramana and Bhagavan Sankara (who are both merely manifestations of our one essential reality, ourself as we really are) are absolutely identical. Both ask us to keep away from all action, and practise self-investigation, which is an absolutely actionless practice of just being. Only this practice of just being can release us from all our attachments to actions, because these actions are just another name for misery or all dissatisfaction.

Thanking you.