[Advaita-l] A Perspective - 22

Kuntimaddi Sadananda ksadananda108 at gmail.com
Sun Mar 7 23:27:50 CST 2010

*Obstacles for spiritual progress I*:

We have discussed some aspects of this before.  We present here some of
obstacles that have been identified in the scriptures as well as by other
aachaaryaas. Krishna says in Gita- 4th chapter that there are three main
obstacles for spiritual progress: - 1. avidya (ignorance) 2. ashraddha (lack
of faith) 3. samshaya (doubts about the goal and the means).

ajnascha ashraddadhaanascha samshayaatmaa vinashyati|

naayam loko2sti na paraH na sukham samshayaatmanaH|| 4-40

Again in the 9th chapter He mentions:

ashraddhadhaanaaH puruShaa dharmasyaasya parantapa|

apraapya maam nivartante mRityusamsaaravartmani|| -9:3

Shankara explains the ashraddadhaanaaH as the one who does not have
shraddhaa on the aatma jnaam, that is, the one who does not have faith in
the knowledge of the self that includes both in understanding its nature,
means of gaining that knowledge and the result of that understanding.
Krishna says they will never reach Me; instead they will be born again and
again. Those who have doubts about the nature and the means of reality will
neither gain the highest nor can they enjoy the benefits in the material
worlds. Hence lack of Shraddhaa or faith and having doubts about the nature
of the truth, nature of the means of gaining that knowledge (doubts about
pramaaNa) will go down the drain that involves taking lower and lower
births. Implication is they will be living life trying to fulfill only the
sensuous enjoyments, and in the process accumulate more vaasanaas where they
will be taking life forms that live at sense level only to exhaust those

In the above sloka, ajnaanam stands for muula avidya – the fundamental
ignorance – which is the lack of knowledge of my own nature. That is
ignorance that I am complete or puurNam, or I am of the nature of pure
unqualified happiness or ananda swaruupa. I know that I am a conscious
entity. I also know that I am existent entity – no scripture is needed to
teach me those. However, I do not know that I am of the nature of happiness
too or ananda swaruupa or limitlessness. Hence, I am not looking for
existence, nor looking for consciousness, but looking for my happiness all
the time.  Limitlessness is happiness. It is not qualified happiness which I
get when I find I am happier with the object of my desire and otherwise not.
This is desire fulfilled happiness or qualified happiness. Everybody’s
happiness, including that of the first born, the Hiranyagarba, is qualified
happiness only, which is experiential happiness, as discussed in Tai. Up. In
the happiness scale, the Upanishad says Hiranyagarbha’s happiness is 1 x 10
23 times that of an ideal human being, who in his prime youth and who owns
the whole world. This experiential happiness is still limited.  However,
pure happiness is limitless, unqualified, and it is my intrinsic nature,
says Vedanta. Nevertheless, all human efforts can be reduced to gain one
essential thing -absolute, inexhaustible, permanent happiness. That can be
accomplished only by gaining infinite limitlessness. Limitlessness cannot be
gained by any effort or pursuit. It can only be gained by knowing that I am
already the limitless. Due to ignorance of my true nature, I take myself
that I am limited being. Even though I know I am existent, I take myself to
be of limited existence – although existence by nature is limitless. Limited
existence involves taking existence itself as a qualified existence, that
is, I exist as this; this being primarily the gross body, sthuula shariira,
which is most tangible, and next I take myself as I am the mind and then the
intellect, put together as the subtle body, and finally I take myself as I
am the causal body, kaaraNa shariira. By taking myself that I am a limited
body, mind and intellect, BMI, the limitations of the body, mind and
intellect become my limitations. This is the error of superimposition where
the limitations of the BMI are superimposed on the limitless
existence-consciousness that I am. Since my true nature is limitlessness, I
cannot readily accept the limitations, since they are not intrinsic to my
nature. With the identification of the limitations of the BMI, I take myself
to be a mortal, as the birth and death is related to Body, and I consider
myself to be unhappy due to the likes and dislikes associated with the mind,
and I consider myself to be ignorant of the world of objects. BMI by nature
is limited. The limited BMI can never become unlimited by any process, as
the process by themselves are limited. Hence all the pursuits in life,
expressed in terms of 1. PravRitti – efforts to gain all that I do not have
and like to have and 2. nivRitti, efforts to loose all that I have and do
not like to have, will fail miserably. The specific efforts may be different
from individual to individual, due to the differences in the likes and
dislikes; but in essence the life struggles are essentially remain the same;
the combination of pravRitti and nivRitti. Hence we pray – asatoma sadgamaya
– Oh Lord please lead me from non-existence to existence, tamasoma
jyotirgamaya, Oh Lord please lead me from ignorance to knowledge, and
mRityorma amRitam gamaya – Oh Lord please lead me from mortality to
immortality. In essence, all these prayers by themselves are useless, since
we are requesting the Lord to solve a problem where there is no problem to
begin with. That which is born has to die, declares the Lord, jaatasyahi
dRivo mRityuH. Therefore, the body that is born has to die someday or the
other. Hence that which is mortal can never become immortal. Thus the prayer
– Oh Lord, please lead me from mortality to immortality cannot be fulfilled.
That I am a mortal is only a notion arising due to identification with the
body. All notions arise because of ignorance.  Hence the prayer –mRityorma
amRitam gamaya – lead me from mortality to immortality should imply that Oh
Lord| please lead me from the notion that I am mortal to the truth that I am
immortal. Thus all prayers are ultimately for the elimination of ignorance
about oneself.  No ignorance can be removed by prayers; it can only be
removed by appropriate knowledge. Therefore ignorance of the self can only
be removed by the self-knowledge. Since it is not objective knowledge the
normal means of gaining the knowledge will not work. Why do I need
self-knowledge?  It is because, ; I am looking for eternal, inexhaustible or
limitless happiness, which cannot be gained by any effort.

In addition, since all our efforts, pravRitti or nivRitti, by definition,
are finite; they cannot give infinite results. Limitless or infiniteness
alone is fulfillment of life and it is freedom from all limitations and is
therefore moksha. It can not be gained by any effort, neither can it be
given. Hence all human struggles to solve their limitation problem remain
useless. One cannot become limitless by any, or sum of all limited efforts.
The compassionate Lord, out of compassion, has to come in some form, to
teach the devotee to redirect his mental attention from all his efforts of
pravRitti and nivRitti to obtain clear understanding of ones own true
nature. Hence Krishna declares that of all efforts or yagnas, the effort to
gain the knowledge of ones own self is the highest, since by gaining the
knowledge one looses the wrong identification of oneself. To gain that
knowledge, Krishna says, one has to approach a proper teacher who is well
versed in the Shaastras, able to communicate that knowledge and who himself
is well established in that reality.

tat viddhi praNipaatena pariprashnena sevayaa| 4-34.

Shankara gives the meaning for praNipaata – as the one who prostrates
falling at the feet of the teacher – pariprashnena by asking the appropriate
or relevant questions to the teacher such as -what is bondage? What is
liberation? What is the nature of ignorance, and what is the knowledge
required, etc. For such a prepared student who asks relevant questions, the
teacher is obligated to teach the knowledge, since he himself obtained that
knowledge by approaching his teacher.

Hence limitlessness or moksha is not something that can be gained, or can it
be given. It is not that some place that I have to go after the death of
this body, such as vaikunTa or kailaasa with some pure saatvic material body
different from this, etc. These are all concepts of dvaita-based
philosophies where there are differences and hierarchies among jiivas, with
Lord and inert world existing as different from jiivas. With inherent
limitations I cannot have limitlessness or freedom from all limitations.
Moksha is, then, recognition of my own true nature, which is limitlessness
or puurNam or ananda swaruupam – which is Brahman. The scripture defines
Brahman as satyam, jnaanam and anantam. These are not properties of Brahman
but intrinsic nature of Brahman.

Hence the greatest obstacle for moksha is ignorance which can be removed
only knowledge and by nothing else. Knowledge does not depend on individual
effort; that is one cannot will the knowledge. It requires a frame of mind
conducive for gaining the knowledge. Hence Shankara says – a prepared mind
for this is that which has saadhana chatuShTaya sampatti or the mind which
has the four fold qualifications; viveka (intellect that can discriminate
that which is eternal from ephemeral), vairaagra (dispassion to reject the
ephemeral), Shamaadi shatkasapaati (mental and sense control, faith,
commitment, equanimity, etc), and mumukshutvam (strong desire for
liberation). There are preparatory of the mind in order for it to appreciate
the mahaavaakya, tat tvam asi, statement of the Vedanta.

We will discuss next role of shraddhaa in the self-knowledge.

Hari Om!


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