[Advaita-l] Obstacles for self-realization - III

kuntimaddi sadananda via Advaita-l advaita-l at lists.advaita-vedanta.org
Mon May 5 20:20:56 CDT 2014

PraNams - continuing the series on the above topic that started sometime back. 
Obstacles for Spiritual Progress - III

We are discussing the obstacles for self-realization based on the Krishna’s statement in Gita 4-40, where He states that 1. avidya (ignorance), 2. ashraddha (faith), 3. samShaya (doubt) form there major obstacles. 

avidya is mula avidya or primordial ignorance and is termed as self-ignorance, that is, the lack of knowledge of our intrinsic nature. Not solving this fundamental problem will not help in solving other problems that are bounded by space and time. I can take the help of others or designate others to solve all other problems on my behalf; but any knowledge can be gained only by self study. Not even Bhagavan can help me in this.  He may send a good teacher for teaching or he may himself take the role of a teacher, but knowledge has to be gained by the individual intellect alone. Other than the intellect, there is no other instrument available for knowledge.  Hence knowledge, by definition, is intellectual. With the intellect we need to understand that I am not the intellect. 

The self-ignorance can go away only by self-knowledge. Any knowledge is gained only by a pramANa, an instrument of knowledge. Since self is the subject which cannot be objectified, the conventional pramaanas or means of knowledge, perception and anumaana cannot reveal self-knowledge. Perception and anumaana or logic work only in the field of objective world. Hence only pramANa for understanding the Self is Vedanta or Upanishad pramANa. Vedas are considered as apourusheyam or not authored by a human being and therefore are free from defects associated with human intellect. We accept any teacher’s teaching as long as those teachings are in tune with the Vedanta. We need a live teacher from whom we can learn Vedanta, with the full faith that the teachings of the Vedanta by the teacher are indeed true – that is shraddhaa which Shankara defines as – shaastrasya guru vaakyasya satyabuddhaavadhaaranaa. We analyzed the role of shraddhaa or faith required
 in the teaching. For the teaching to work, absolute faith is essential. Question people ask is, can one have a teacher who is not alive. Not so, because there is no way a student can clarify his doubts from a dead-teacher. If he has to relay on someone else to clarify his knowledge, then he should have full faith in the teaching of that person that they indeed are true and are in tune with Vedanta. Therefore a live teacher is a must. Krishna says clearly – that one has to approach (obviously a live-guru) a teacher with full faith and ask relevant questions pertaining to Vedanta – tat viddhi praNipaatena paripraShnena sevayaa. Munduka Up. says – tat vijnaanaartham sa gurum eva abhigacchet – one has to approach a teacher alone (gurum eva) to gain that knowledge, approaching that teacher with samit paaNiH – with fire wood that was needed in those days,  indicative of readiness to serve and to be disciplined. There may be exceptions to the rule
 but one cannot make rule out of exceptions. 

Now-a-days there is no need of fire-wood. Tai. Up says the teacher obligation is to teach freely, but at the same time the student’s obligation is to give back to the teacher – aachaaryaaya priyam dhanam aahRtya, ..( the obligation is to procure and give the wealth that pleases the teacher). Obligations are two fold. 1. Providing the required support to the best that one can do for the sustenance of that teacher or the teaching institution and 2. After learning, the obligation is to pass on the teaching to others who come to him with full faith. Propagation of the knowledge to the worthy students who approach the teacher with the attitude of learning is the foundation of our Vedic culture. Hence student prays the Lord in advance–(Once I become a teacher) please send many worthy students from all directions – aa maayantu brahma chaariNaH swaahaa| vimaayantu brahma chaariNa swaahaa| pramaayantu brahma chaariNaH swaahaa| damaayantu brahmachaariNaH
 swaahaa| - The request is very specific - to send students who are well prepared and who have shama, damaadi Shatka sampaathis – or mentally well disciplined and brilliant students. Thus guru-shishya chain is indicated by that very prayer. 

Krishna, while glorifying the Vedantic teacher in Gita Ch.18, says to whom one can teach and to whom one should not teach. One should teach only to those who have shraddhaa or faith in the teachings and in the methodology. We respect all realized masters but all cannot be the teachers. Only those who have learned Vedanta, not only the truth but how to teach also – who is termed as sampradaaya teacher – can teach properly the truth knowing very well the pit-falls that the student can fall into.   

The moment jnaanam raises it removes ignorance – like the moment a light is brought in all the darkness instantaneously disappears, even if that darkness has been there from the beginning of the creation.  The moment ignorance is removed all duality is falsified in the wake of knowledge. 

Ignorance being beginning-less along with its mushrooming effects of  sanchita-aagaami-and praarabda karmas, it appears that it is very difficult to get rid of all these. Krishna says sarvam karmaan akhilam paartha jnaanena parisamaapyate both sanchita and aagami karmas get destroyed with the jnaanam. Sureswara says knowledge being fact is always stronger than thousands of misconceptions. Falsehood cannot stand in front of truth. satyameva jajate, na anRitam - is the Vedic proverb. Jnaanam destroys ignorance and errors. In addition only knowledge can destroy ignorance – samyak jnaanam na baadhyate –however, knowledge cannot get destroyed, since it is born of proper instrument of knowledge, once it arises it never gets destroyed. Hence a jnaani cannot become ajnaani again. 

In addition, it is important to recognize that knowledge does not require any other support like meditation or saadhana for negating samsaara. Even meditation is not required to strengthen the knowledge. It does not require even karma. The role of karma yoga is only to convert the student into a worthy listener. Meditation is only to internalize the knowledge that has taken place. Knowledge also involves recognition that there is nothing more is needed to know – yat jnaatvaa naaparam jneyam, knowing involves recognition that there is nothing more to know.  Knowledge also cannot be negated or falsified by the experience of duality. Knowledge recognizes the falsity of the experiential duality. It is similar to the knowledge that sun never rises or sets does not negate the experience of the sunrise and sunset – it only helps to recognize the falsity of the experiential sunrise and sunset. That means a jnaani still sees the duality but recognizes the
 falsity of the duality that is experienced. Therefore, samyak jnaanam – right understanding born out of proper study of Upanishadic scriptures – is more than sufficient for the negation of the ignorance. That understanding takes place only if I have a faith in the teaching. 

Related to the lack of shraddhaa is the doubt about the pramANa itself, and the teaching that says that you are seeking the fulfillment in life and what you are seeking is what you already are. However, that knowledge, tat tvam asi, does not get registered in the mind, due to lack of a strong conviction of the truth of the teaching. One wants a further proof of the statement, mainly because of strong personal experiences or impressions that are contradictory to the teaching itself. People generally say advaita is very difficult to understand. That statement itself is an immediate red signal. The implication of that statement is my intense transactional experience contradicts the teaching of advaita that says what you are experiencing is not real.  It further says that which is real cannot be experienced, since it is not an object for experiencing. If I see a chair out there, advaita says there is really no chair out there, because I am seeing it,
 dRisyatvaat.  What is really there cannot be seen. The pramANas that I use to perceive the world contradicts the teaching itself. Hence only pramANa is the Shaastra pramANa. One cannot use any other pramANa to confirm or to deny the teaching. Hence Krishna says shamshaya or doubt about the mahaavaakya as pramaaNa, where the identity of the self and the total self, will cause degradation of the individual since he will relay objectivity as reality which is inherently erroneous. That Brahman is alone is the ultimate truth cannot be proved by any other means, and that Brahman is none other than myself says the scriptures. Therefore, no proof is also required. Other than advaita no other philosophy subscribes to oneness of the ultimate reality. 

The great aachaaryaas of other philosophies, including both theistic and atheistic philosophies namely, sankhyaa, yoga, nyaya, vaisheshika, puurva miimamsa, dvaita, vishiShTaadvaita, bhuddism, jainism, etc, all have problems in appreciating the non-duality at the absolute level. They all interpret the mahaavaakyaas emphasizing the duality. They all subscribe to multiple jiivas and some even claim that each jiiva is all pervading - nityaH sarvagataH sthaaNuH acaloyam sanaatanaH – that which is eternal, all pervading, firm, immovable and beginning-less; all-pervading yet finite are contradictory in terms. Hence Dattaatreya says in avadhuuta gita – Iswaraanugrahaat eva pumsaam advaita vaasanaa – only by the grace of God one acquires the inklings towards advaita philosophy. 

The next prominent obstacle is longing for some Brahman experience: Lack of clear understanding of the nature of the truth or mahaavaakya causes one to long for some Brahman-experience.   Understanding of the nature of the truth is recognition of oneself as ever present and eternally liberated or free from all limitations. Realization is the realization that there is nothing else to realize but recognition of the fact that I am, by nature, complete and full. All are in me but I am not in any of particular thing, including this body, mind and intellect. There are those who claim that they have studied Vedanta and then claim- I have understood Vedanta. I do not want to waste any more time in these intellectual discussions, and all I want to do now is to sit down and meditate for self-realization or experience of aatma or the self. Some claim that there is no need to study Vedanta – there is a direct path and that is to sit down and enquire –who am I?.
 The proper inquiry of- who am I -can only take you to the understanding that I am existent-consciousness or saakshii swarupam or tvam padaartham. Without the clear understanding of mahaavaakya that shows the identity relation of tvam and tat, one has not discovered that one is free. Any idea to the effect that I have understood Vedanta intellectually, and for self-realization I need to sit down now and meditate on it, or one has to take sanyaasa to realize is a definite red signal, showing that Vedanta mahaavaakya is not understood correctly. Implication in all these misconceptions is that the realization is an event in future in the seat of meditation.  It should be recognized that meditation is not a means of knowledge or pramANa to provide the self-knowledge. It should also be recognized that only through intellect one can know that I am not the intellect but the very substratum of the intellect – similar to recognition that while looking at the
 pot that there is no pot there. What is there is only clay in the form of a pot. Similarly intellect is required to recognize that I am not the intellect and I am that because of which I am able to make a statement that I am not the intellect using intellect. Kena says – yat manasaa na manute ye na hurmano matam, tat eve brahma tvam viddhi na idam yat idam upaasate| - that which mind cannot think of (mind can only think of the objects) but because of which mind has the capacity to think of – that alone is Brahman not this that you worship. Then what is nidhidhyaasana for? 

Vedantic meditation involves sitting down and inquiring into the meaning of the mahaavaakyas staring from tat tvam asi is only to recognize and establish my self in that identity of my true nature.  Understanding is different from abidance in that understanding. As we discussed before the knowledge takes place by Shravana and manana since it is direct and immediate since the statements concern about myself which is ever present. PramaaNa operates by shravana, as in the case of the tenth man. Manana eliminates all the doubts related to the pramaaNa. Doubt-free knowledge alone is complete knowledge.  Then, Nidhidhyaasana or meditative inquiry into the nature of reality will help in eliminating the habitual mental notions formed before the dawn of the knowledge. These habitual notions, which involve the notions that I am not that, will side track the background understanding. Habits die hard. Only way to overcome these habitual notions and for the mind not
 to get entangled in the external world of plurality is to have constant reminder of my true nature that I have understood through shravana and manana. Krishna says by abhyaasa and vairaagya, that is by practice and by withdrawing from unnecessary involvements one can achieve this. This is what is emphasized in the jnana-karma-sanyaasa – jnaanena karma sanyaasa or by knowledge one can withdraw mind’s indulgence in the involvement of the day to day transactions. In this respect the jnaana sanyaasa or vidhvat sanyaasa is helpful for a jnaani to abide himself in the jnaana. Krishna gives an elaborate analysis of a jnaani or sthitaprajna in dealing with the day to day transactions which cannot be avoided as long as one is living with BMI. When the understanding of the mahavaakyaas gets one firmly established, then the praarabda-vaasana-generated emotions in the mind do not perturb the equanimity of the mind gained through the absolute knowledge of the
 self. Hence Krishna say a jaani is one whose mind is devoid of attachments,  – dukheShu anudvigna manaaH sukheShu vigata spRuhaH| viita raaga bhaya krodhaH sthitadhiiH muniH uchyate|| The one whom mind is not perturbed when sorrow comes or excited when objects that bring pleasure come, one who is devoid of attachments, fear, anger and who is firmly abiding in his knowledge is called muni. Obviously jnaani has the mind but he is not affected by the fluctuating emotions in the mind. He can withdraw the mind like the tortoise withdraws it limbs when he sees that the mind is getting lost in vyavahaara. 

Longing for an experience of the absolute is therefore constitute a big hurdle in the self-realization. The fact of the matter is the absolute truth cannot be experienced and also need not be experienced, since it is the experiencer himself in all the experiences. Yet the constant nagging question remains; if I am already complete or full or limitless, how come I feel I am terribly incomplete and utterly inadequate person, wanting many things that I do not have. How can one prove that I am complete and full already? Implication is I am looking for an independent objective confirmation, other than the scriptures, the confirmation that does not depend on one’s faith, or subjective assertions. Even if any realized person comes and says – yes what the scripture says is indeed true - such statements also do not provide the proof since there is no litmus test to prove that he has realized. Ultimately it is only shabda pramANa where faith in the statement
 of the scriptures is essential for knowledge to take place. 

Even those philosophers or Vedic scholars, dvaitins and vishiShTaadvaitins, who have the faith in the scriptures do not consider that the mahaavaakyas provide the absolute truth with identity of jiiva-jagat and Iswara as one – adviatam – that is beyond the waking, dream and deep sleep states – …advaitam, caturtham manyante sa aatmaa, sa vijneyaH, Man.Up. For them duality is the ultimate reality, in spite of the fact that the scriptures says even a speck of duality will cause fear – udaramantaram kurute athathasya bhayam bhavati – Tai. Up. Even the Patanjali yoga that stresses on the nirvikalpaka samaadhi ascertains that the absolute reality is not advaita or non-duality but plurality involving Iswara and multitude of jiivas. Obviously the nirvikalpaka samaadhi of Patanjali does not give the knowledge of advaita, since it is not a means of knowledge or pramANa. Mind is required to gain any knowledge including self-knowledge. Mahaavaakya as
 pramANa will work in the hands of a competent teacher. A competent teacher is one who was a competent student before. Thus Vedantic tradition and a proper means of study are ascertained.  To put it in Swami Paramarthanandaji's words - Self-realization is not by intuition but by being in tuition. 

Hari Om!

More information about the Advaita-l mailing list