Thursday 27 November 2008

Advaita sadhana – non-dualistic spiritual practice

Towards the end of his long and interesting second comment on my recent article, Guru Vāchaka Kōvai – a new translation by TV Venkatasubramanian, Robert Butler and David Godman, with reference to verse 579 of Guru Vachaka Kovai Haramurthi wrote:

In my view, this verse has a very pronounced non-dualistic emphasis, it speaks from the non-dual perspective: there is simply no mode of existence ever apart from the Self — and then it explicates a mode of existence under the aspect of a path/means for attaining something and under the aspect of being the result of actions (karmaphala), here technically designated as upeya, that which may be attained by some means. And all this is ever already inseparable from the Self — a suggestion which, at least for an awareness deeply engaged in a sAdhana (e.g. of self-enquiry), has profound implications!

If a translator suddenly introduces the essentially dualistic notion of a “refuge”, it means turning the verse into partially speaking from the altogether unenlightened perspective of a self-estranged and confusing consciousness, thereby actually destroying the sublime beauty, suggestiveness and logical integrity of the verse.

It may be part of the agenda, say, of Christian piety to adopt its phantasy of a god as a consoling refuge, but it is less sure whether such a model and its implication, to quote Michael, of “clinging firmly to self as our sole refuge” is a particularly useful strategy in terms of an Advaitic practice, to say nothing of being the “only” method.
I agree with Haramurthi that verse 579 of Guru Vachaka Kovai ‘has a very pronounced non-dualistic emphasis’ and that ‘it speaks from the non-dual perspective’. In fact the absolutely non-dual nature of self, which is expressed by the word அத்துவித (advaita) in the first clause and reiterated by the word அபேதம் (abhēdam) in the final sentence, is the very foundation upon which the teaching given in this verse is based.

Sunday 23 November 2008

Self-attentiveness, effort and grace

Yesterday the following anonymous comment was posted on my previous article, Atma-vichara and the ‘practice’ of neti neti, with reference to a sentence that I had written in it, “Since thoughts can rise only when we attend to them, they will all subside naturally when we keep our attention fixed exclusively in our own essential self-conscious being, ‘I am’”:

… I try to fix my attention on the feeling ‘I am’, which is present all the time. However, this attention, even when sustained for a considerable amount of time, does not result in the melting away of body consciousness, and as a result of this, other thoughts occasionally arise and sense perceptions are constantly active. Sometimes, I feel the practice is futile because the melting away of body consciousness seems like an act of grace and not something which I can accomplish by attempting to focus on ‘I am’ as much as possible. Exclusive attention to ‘I am’ doesn't seem like something the spurious ‘I’ can accomplish but something which may or may not happen, depending on if an act of grace occurs or not. I’m not sure if I’m practicing correctly. How long should I keep my attention on ‘I am’ before body consciousness abates? If done correctly, should it abate immediately, in a few seconds, in a few hours? Please help.
When practising self-attentiveness, our sole aim should be to experience the perfect clarity of pristine non-dual self-consciousness.

Thursday 20 November 2008

Atma-vichara and the ‘practice’ of neti neti

On one of my earlier articles, Repeating 'who am I?' is not self-enquiry, two anonymous comments dated 31 October 2008 and 19 November 2008 have been posted recommending the practice of neti neti as prescribed by Stephen Wolinsky.

I do not know anything about Stephen Wolinsky or the practice that he has prescribed, but what these two comments say about his practice of neti neti makes me suspect that it is very different to the simple practice of atma-vichara (self-investigation or self-enquiry) taught by Sri Ramana, which is the only truly effective means by which we can experience our natural state, in which we remain separate from all the extraneous adjuncts that are not ‘I’.

The term neti neti literally means ‘not thus, not thus’, and denotes the process of intellectual self-analysis by which we discriminate and understand that our body, mind and all other such adjuncts cannot be ‘I’. Having understood this truth intellectually, we should seek to experience what we really are. Since we are not the body, mind or any other such transitory phenomenon, we should withdraw our attention from them and allow it to rest in and as our own essential being, which is always conscious of itself as ‘I am’.

Wednesday 19 November 2008

Guru Vachaka Kovai verse 579 and Anubhuti Venba verse 610

When I wrote my previous article, Guru Vāchaka Kōvai – a new translation by TV Venkatasubramanian, Robert Butler and David Godman, I unfortunately overlooked an important fact, namely that Sri Muruganar himself had written a brief urai (explanation) for verse 579 of Guru Vāchaka Kōvai in Anubhūti Veṇbā.

I overlooked this partly because I do not have a copy of Anubhūti Veṇbā, and partly because I forgot to check the appendix on page 536 of David’s version of Guru Vachaka Kovai, in which he has given the corresponding verse numbers in Guru Vāchaka Kōvai and Anubhūti Veṇbā for the 95 verses that are included in both these works.

Fortunately David has sent me an e-mail attaching a scanned copy of a letter written to me by a mutual friend, in which he pointed out that verse 579 of Guru Vāchaka Kōvai is included in Anubhūti Veṇbā as verse 610, and in which he also copied by hand the urai that Sri Muruganar wrote for it in Anubhūti Veṇbā, which is as follows:

Wednesday 12 November 2008

Guru Vāchaka Kōvai – a new translation by TV Venkatasubramanian, Robert Butler and David Godman

A new English version of Guru Vāchaka Kōvai has recently been published. It is translated by Dr T.V. Venkatasubramanian, Robert Butler and David Godman, and is edited and annotated by David Godman.

More information about this new book and where it can be purchased is given by David on his website at and on his blog at

In his lengthy and interesting introduction David has not only given a detailed history of the original Tamil text and the various translations of it, but has also explained why he felt there was a need for this new translation.

Since I have recently received many e-mails from people asking me for my opinion about this new translation, and in particular whether I thought there was really any need for it, I would like to take this opportunity to put on record my support for this new book and for what David has written in his introduction.