[Advaita-l] Meditation according to advaita
Sundaresan, Vidyasankar (GE Infra, Water)
vidyasankar.sundaresan at ge.com
Tue Jun 3 15:49:09 CDT 2008
In my last post, I left the discussion of vastu-tantra vs. kartR-tantra
with the statement that avidyA is at the root of the impulse to act,
because the Atman is always a-kartR.
Now, this fundamental insight of advaita vedAnta has tremendous
implications for its view of meditation. The Atman-brahman identity
is not something that is a result of meditation on brahman. This
identity is an already existent reality, so that its knowledge is not
dependent on any action. The jnAna is "vastu-tantra." This is clear
from sentences such as "tat tvam asi", "ahaM brahmAsmi" etc.
These sentences reveal this identity and do not impel one to any
Now, if meditation is a kind of mental action, does this mean that
meditation is useless? There are some who are extremely anxious
to set apart vedAnta thought from the usage of any terms such as
dhyAna, yoga or samAdhi. They would have one believe that indeed
meditation is overrated and useless, especially if tinged with some
kind of yoga influence. Particularly, if a traditional sannyAsi teacher
of vedAnta says something positive about meditation and yoga, then
he is claimed to have deviated significantly from Sankara's pure
teaching, no matter that he is the head of an unbroken paramparA
of disciple lineage from Sankara. As a matter of fact, they may even
think that being at the head of such a paramparA may be the very
reason why such a teacher has deviated from Sankara. After all, who
needs the blinkers of paramparA when we can rediscover Sankara
directly from his own writings, right?
Not so. The vedAnta source texts do not stop with revealing the
identity of Atman with brahman. They also take into account the
fact that human beings suffer from avidyA, which prevents them
from knowing the identity. Therefore, they teach various means
for human beings to realize their identity. This is often couched
in language that seemingly enjoin something upon the seeker.
E.g. AtmA va are drashTavyaH SrotavyaH mantavyaH
nididhyAsitavyaH. In the sUtra bhAshya, Sankara bhagavatpAda
labels this and other similar sentences as "vidhi-cchAyAni" (1.1.4).
The word vidhi is a technical mImAMsA term, which primarily refers
to an order to do some action, while chAyA means a shadow. In
another place (2.1.3), he explicitly cites the same sentence as
an instance of "yoga" and uses the word "vihitaH", which a verb
form deriving from the same root as "vidhi".
It is a mistake to think that what these upanishad statements
amount to orders (injunctions, more technically) to begin some
new action. However, this does not mean that one can understand
the meaning of these sentences in a purely analytical fashion.
What is the function of these sentences then? Our bhagavatpAda
gives a very beautiful answer in sUtrabhAshya 1.1.4. I provide
below a free translation, not a literal one, for I think it is more
important to capture the spirit and intent of the words.
yo hi bahirmukhaH pravartate purushaH - the man who acts with
his attention turned outwards,
"ishTaM me bhUyAd anishTaM mA bhUd" iti, - thinking "may I
attain what I desire, may I avoid the undesired,"
na ca tatra AtyantikaM purushArthaM labhate - and does not
obtain there the ultimate goal of man, i.e. liberation,
tam Atyantika-purushArtha-vAnchinaM - him, who desires the
ultimate goal (liberation),
svAbhAvikAt kArya-karaNa-saMghAta-pravRtti-gocarAd vimukhI-
kRtya - turning (him) away from the habitual activities of his
senses and their objects
pratyagAtma-srotastayA pravartayanti - direct his attention flowing
towards the inner Self
"AtmA vA are drashTavya" ityAdIni - texts such as "the Self is to
To my mind, the most important words in the above sentence are
bahirmukha, vimUkhI-kRtya (note, this is a word derived from root
kR - to do) and pratyagAtma-srotastayA.
The sense is that upanishad sentences such as "the Self is to be
seen, heard, contemplated and meditated upon" speak to the man
who seeks liberation and doesn't find it in external objects. They
teach him to turn away from his usual externally directed activities
of word, thought and deed, instead directing him towards his own
inner Self. According to Sankara bhagavatpAda, what is the seeker
of liberation supposed to do after hearing the upanishad sentence,
"AtmA vA are drashTavyaH"? If one is merely going to argue semantics,
such a man has to do nothing. If one is to be sincere, however, one
realizes that such a man has to practise turning his attention inwards
to really understand the reality of the Self. For most people, "I have
do nothing to attain liberation, because liberation is not the result of
any action" is merely an excuse for inertia, to persist in their current
state of activity.
Now what is the normal Sanskrit word for the inward focussed attention
on the Self? dhyAna! What is the Sanskrit word for the state of being
focussed on the Self? samAdhi! What is the usual word for the process
of trying to reach this state of focused attention? yogAbhyAsa!
An intelligent reader might feel like criticizing the above as reading
much yoga-based intent into Sankara bhagavatpAda's words. After all,
his statement can possibly be understood as merely highlighting the
need to eliminate attachment to external objects. I can get into some
detail as to why I think otherwise, but won't do so here. Let me just
close with some general remarks.
It is easiest to delude oneself into thinking that an intellecual and
analytical reading of the upanishad texts makes everything okay.
But the physical headache and the consequent mental anger that
arise when say, the first morning cup of coffee is not available on
time should remind us that we are still hankering after external
objects. It takes a lot of disciplined action before we can truly
transcend the need for action. If this is kartR-tantra, so be it.
Even the desire for liberation is purusha-tantra. One man seeks
it, another does not. Inasmuch as this is the situation, yoga does
have a very important place. Merely saying this is vastutantra, that
is purushatantra, etc. does not help in understanding how one can
cross over from purushatantra action to vastutantra knowledge.
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