[Advaita-l] Jnanam and Meditation

Balaji Krishnapuram balajikrishnapuram at hotmail.com
Thu Aug 5 15:13:20 CDT 2004

Shri Jaladhar Vyas wrote :

>Atma vichara, the contemplation of the question "who am I?" is all the
> meditation you need.
In this context I have some sincere questions that have been nagging me for
a long time. I have tried to outline the sequence of thoughts that explains
my confusion. Since there is confusion arising because of two apparently
contradictory ideas, I have explained my interpretations of both ideas and
also my interpretation of the arguments proposed by different authors all of
whom I deeply respect.

Unfortunately this makes it a long email and I apologize in advance for
this. I humbly request the guidance and clarification from the senior and
more knowledgeable members in order to clear the confusion.

1. Many times in the Shruti it *seems* to be clearly stated that the
Brahmaatman cannot be perceived by any of our senses or by thought or by
inference. I say seems, because this is a matter of my interpretation after
a long vichara on these lines, and also based on several commentaries by
Swami Chinmayananda etc.

e.g.: Though many examples are available, one that is more often quoted than
most is :Mandukya Upanishad(7), "Na antah prajnam, na bahish prajnam, ..."

>From the point of view of logic (which is a lesser but still useful
pramana), the consciousness which forms the substratum on which all thoughts
exist cannot be cognized as a thought. This is one reason why the Brahman
consciousness is sometimes called Chitta-akasha (the space in which all
thoughts exist, or may be the space of thoughts) in the Yoga Vashishtha.

2. Nevertheless, the same Shruti often says that the Brahman is to be

For example the same Mandukya Upanishad says about the Brahman as the
Thuriya, that "it is to be realized". Just to explain my understanding
(because it is possible I misunderstand something at any point), "the
Thuriya" or the fourth state is different from [and yet forms the basis of]
the waking, dreaming and sleeping states.

Question 1:
How is this even possible then that the Brahman can be realized!? My
interpretation seems flawed because logically points 1 and 2 seem to be in

Explanation of question:
One interpretation of the "Chit" (i.e. consciousness) attribute often used
to describe the Brahman is that it is capable of self-cognition, or in other
words self-perception.

However, to my mind it appears that the very act of cognition *can only
possibly exist as a thought*. But this has apparently been explicitly
contradicted in the above point 1, by saying that the Brahman cannot be
cognized as even a thought. This leads to a set of (to my mind) mutually
contradictory statements that I cannot properly interpret and understand.
Surely this is because of ignorance on my part, and I would like to clarify
this with the more senior and better read members of the group.

Question 2:
What is the true purpose of meditation? Can it ever lead to Jnanam
("enlightenment" in the words of some commentaries)?

Shri Shankara says often (see for example in the first few stanzas of the
Atma-Bodha) that Jnana is the only direct means of achieving Moksha (in the
sense of realization). He points out that no karma (or action) can
*directly* lead to realization without creating the conditions in the mind
so that it is more receptive to understanding (Janana).

In other words my interpretation is that Karma is a very useful
*preparation* (but only that) for the intermediate state preparation of the
mind for Jnana. I.e the desire-free action(Nish kaama karma) cleanses and
quitens the mind, thus preparing it to perceive the tender strains of the
truth that is always there in the background; this perception is itself
Jnanam or realization.

So, in a similar sense, meditation cannot lead to Moksha, and can only help
in Chitta-Shuddhi. Shri Vyas also seems to be referring to something like
this interpretation in his comment quoted at the top of this email. However,
my interpretation (which may be faulty) of the statements of some other very
clearly knowledgeable authors such as the Swamis of the Swami Ramakrishna
mission school seem to be different, contradicting this viewpoint. To
summarize this interpretation:

The state of continuous non-thought (when there is no perceiver or perceived
and they have thus merged into one) in the height of meditation is the
Thuriya state: this seems to imply that this height of meditation allows the
Brahman to be experienced. This experience is referred to as the
"realization" and they seem to imply that the active experience of the
Brahman is essential for Jnanam. This school often dismisses all other
approaches as "bookish" and the basis of this claim is that they draw a
distinction between experience and "intellectual knowledge".

For example one explanation used is that no amount of talking about the
taste of sugar will help the listener "understand" what it tastes like. The
only way to explain the taste of sugar is direct experience. Once both
speaker and listener have experience of this taste, then it makes sense to
talk of it using words, but not before this.

This view seems to be more in agreement with point 2 above (that the Brahman
is to be experienced), but again in direct contradiction to point 1 (It is
non-experiencable, since It forms the basis for all experiences).

It seems to me that every experience in our every day life, and every
thought, and even every non-thought is a reflection of the Brahman. Thus the
only experience of the Brahman possible is the Maya all around us and we
have been experiencing this all the time. Even non-thought has been
happening in or life all the time from our birth: which of us has
continuously had thoughts? Thus in the intervsal between two thoughts there
has been a silence, though that silence has perhaps not been consciously
observed. Further, no doubt in the time when there is no thoughts there is
Brahman, but the same Brahman is not absent when there are thoughts!

So in this interpretation, each of us has already had the necessary (and
indeed all possible) experiences, the difficulty is only a matter of wrong
interpretation due to ignorance of the truth. Swami Dayananda Saraswati and
his school sometimes make this point strongly by saying "all experience is
still only in the form of some intellectual knowledge, thus there is no
distinction that can be drawn between intellectual knowledge and


In the above I have tried to explain a couple of *verbose* questions that
have been with me for a long time. To clarify why there is confusion in my
mind I have also provided the interpretations for and against the views that
I have till now read and analyzed.

I would be very grateful for further clarifications from the learned members
of the group.

Hari Om,

Balaji Krishnapuram

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