Vedanta made simple
The four Vedas—Rig, Sama, Yajur, and Atharva—lay down elaborate steps by which one can attain knowledge of the Self (Tat Tvam Asi—You are That). Clarifications about these steps are sought by aspirants and explained by the teachers in the Upanishads (also known as Vedanta). The Upanishads are further explained by Sankaracharya, Vidyaranya, and scholars of their ilk in a body of texts known as Prakarana Granthas (introductory texts).
To cut a long story short, all these texts and explanations to the texts are guides to practical Hinduism—to Vedantic Sadhana (henceforth referred to as Sadhana).
Sadhana is a spiritual practice outlined in the Vedanta and Prakarana texts (henceforth referred to as the texts). It is a process by which the postulate ‘Pragyanam Brahman (Consciousness is all there is)’ is experientially proven beyond doubt for those willing to put in the effort.
The Hypothesis of the Vedas
The Vedas postulate the hypothesis ‘Consciousness is all there is.’ The Rig Veda is declaratory. It states with certainty ‘Pragyanam Brahman (Consciousness is Brahman).’ The Sama Veda is advisory. It urges the student to explore the truth of the statement ‘Tat Tvam Asi (You are Brahman).’ The Yajur Veda counsels. It commends the student to acquire an experiential understanding of ‘Ayam Atma Brahman (I am Brahman).’ Finally, the Atharva Veda celebrates the realisation of the truth ‘Aham Brahmaasmi (I am Brahman).’
Does not demand belief in God or the soul or any system of knowledge. The theist, the atheist, and the agnostic are welcome to explore the validity of the statement;
Focuses the attention on the person’s awareness of being aware;
Uses the mind to dissolve the mind and reveal Brahman;
Is to be experientially proven. Countless seekers have embraced the recommended methodology and arrived at the same result.
The Approach to the Proposition
The texts recognise that it is difficult for the ordinary person dwelling in this activity-filled world to comprehend the truth of the hypothesis (Aham Brahmasmi) without help. Therefore, they attempt to point the aspirant in the right direction by using a number of arguments in favour of the hypothesis. Unfortunately, the authors of the texts are constrained to use language, which cannot fully express that which is beyond language. It is often for this reason that one would find these texts resorting to ‘neti, neti’(not this, not this’) proving their point by showing us ‘what is not’ rather than ‘what is.’
Fortunately, the books are able to start the aspirant on the journey by stating two, familiar undisputed facts:
• The first undeniable fact is ‘existence.’ Nobody doubts his or her existence.
• The second acknowledged fact is that everything other than the self is an object that can be observed by the self.
The texts, in keeping with their literary tradition and avowed aim, repeat these two facts in a multitude of ways for the understanding and absorption of the aspirant. It is a statistic that several of these books give us as many as six pointers as to why we are not the body-mind complex and several more pointers as to why we should look beyond the senses, the mind, the intellect, and the ego to identify the true Self. However, the journey from hearing the words (Pragyanam Brahman) to experiencing the words (Aham Brahmasmi) is not a simple one. The aspirants have to practise Sadhana in order to reach full awareness of the import of the teaching.
The Five stages
There are five stages in the practice of the Sadhana:
Adhikari: It means ‘the qualified.’ In this stage, the student has to work towards attaining the necessary qualifications for entering into Sadhana. They must hear the words of the texts and resonate with them with understanding and conviction. This should be followed up with constant repetition, contemplation, and the practice of experiencing the world from the perspective provided—I am not this body or mind.
Guru Upasadana: ‘Guru’ means teacher and ‘Upasadana’ means the practice of being near the guru and serving them. The purpose is to learn by example. To this end, the guru must be a Self-realised person or one who has understood, practised, and manifested the truth of the words (Tat Tvam Asi) embodied in the texts.
Upadesha: ‘Upadesha’ literally means teaching and, in context, ‘acquiring knowledge.’ The aspirant becomes ready to learn answers to the three important questions: Wwam pada (Who am I?), Tat pada (What is this world?), and Asi pada (what is the relation between the two?).
Sadhana: ‘Sadhana’ means contemplation; meditation on what has been learnt (Aham Atma Brahma). The aspirant learns to internalise the teachings and meditate upon them so that the words acquire meaning and become an experiential reality.
Phala, or fruits of Sadhana: The student acquires two benefits—videha mukti (freedom after death) and jeevan mukti (living liberation)—by finally realising that the postulate is true (Aham Brahmasmi).
Tools for the aspirant
The basic tools of Sadhana are:
Shravana, manana, and nididhyasana
Shravana, manana, and nididhyasana
‘Shravana,’ ‘Manana,’ and ‘Nididhyasana’ mean ‘hearing,’ ‘contemplation,’ and ‘practice.’
‘Shravana’ has a number of literal meanings including ‘ear,’ ‘hypotenuse of a triangle,’ ‘that which is heard,’ ‘understanding,’ and so on. However, in context, ‘Shravana’ means ‘resonating with the words, or internalisation of the meaning of the words heard.’ The aspirant must totally accept the truth of what is heard and must believe its inviolability in order to be able to proceed. To this end, the words must point the student to undisputed facts (mentioned above).
‘Manana’ means ‘contemplating deeply and persistently on the truth of the words (taking into account the arguments presented by Vedic scholars in the Upanishads and Prakarana Granthas) till the meaning becomes experiential.’
‘Nididhyasana’ means ‘actualising or manifesting the concept and knowing it to be true.’
The methodology to be adopted for Shravana, Manana, and Nididhyasana to succeed is Sadhana Chatustaya, or the four-fold practice, detailed as:
Shat Sampathi (six treasures)
Mumukshutvam (intense longing for realisation or for the Divine).
‘Viveka’ means discrimination, or the ability to distinguish between real and unreal. How does one do that? First, we are advised that we are spiritual beings having a human experience. We need to examine the nature of the human experience in depth in order to realise the underlying reality.
Human experience is of four kinds:
The Waking State: In this state, we interact with the external world using our five sense organs (eyes, nose, ears, skin, and tongue), the five motor organs (organs of movement—hands and legs; speech—tongue; reproduction; and excretion), the five pranas (energy flows—prana, apana, samana, udana, and vyana), the mind, the intellect, the ego-sense, and thought.
The Dreaming State: In this state, we no longer interact with the external waking world using our physical organs, but our mind is still active. It creates a dream world which is populated with dream bodies and dream events.
The Deep Sleep State: Here, the body and mind are absent. Yet, we remain aware of the absence of the body and mind.
Turiyam: This is the final state which most of us remain unaware of. This is the state of pure consciousness in which all the three states described above occur. Turiyam, in other words, is the reality underlying all experiences—the real spiritual you. In order to access this state of being, the viveki must undertake the practice of Viveka in seven stages. The stages require personal and tireless effort to focus upon the experiencer.
Identifying the body and mind as objects.
Identifying the source of pain and suffering.
Making the effort to neutralise the source of suffering.
Liberating the experiencer from the control of the body-mind.
Identifying personality traits.
Dismantling the personality traits to liberate the witness.
‘Pragyanam Brahman (Consciousness is all)’ is realised.
‘Vairagya’ is often incorrectly translated to mean ‘renunciation.’ ‘Vairagya’ really means re-direction of desire. The vairagi gives up worldly desires generated by the interaction of the external world in the waking state and dream state, and withdraws into Turiyam in five stages:
Yatamana: In this stage, the vairagi becomes intensely aware that their senses dictate their actions and reactions. The vairagi then identifies the dominant processes by which their desires are stimulated and makes a conscious effort of avoiding the stimuli. Japa (repeating a mantra), bhajans (spiritual songs), and other repetitive exercises are used at this stage to achieve the state of Yatamana.
Vyatireka: In this stage, the vairagi makes a conscious effort to detach the sense organ from the sensory input. Mindfulness exercises are used at this stage to detach the senses.
Ekendriya: In this stage, the vairagi realises that the mind continues to operate even when the senses are under control. A conscious effort is made to identify and destroy the dormant desires of the mind. The practice of Dharana is recommended at this stage.
Vashiikara: In this stage, the vairagi has gained complete mastery over their senses and their mind and has achieved equanimity. No internal or external stimuli can impact them.
Para Vairagya: In this stage, liberation is achieved. The vairagi is ready to transcend beyond the gunas, or fundamental forces (Satva, Rajas, and Tamas) and realise the truth of the statement ‘Aham Brahmasmi.’
‘Shat Sampathi’ means ‘six treasures.’ These treasures have to be guarded vigilantly by the constant practice of Viveka and Vairagya. The treasures are:
Dama (sense control)
Uparati (inward examination)
Titiksha (forbearance; tolerance wherein one is not affected by likes and dislikes)
Shraddha (faith in the guru; the outcome of Self-enquiry)
Samadhana (focus; concentration)
The vairagi who has achieved Stage 4 or Stage 5 of the practice of Vairagya automatically is the owner of the above six treasures.
‘Mumukshutvam’ is the last tool of Sadhana. Mumukshutvam literally means ‘passionate desire for moksha.’ One can practise Viveka and Vairagya and protect the six treasures vigilantly, but the desire for freedom arises naturally in the heart of the sadhak (aspirant). The desire for hetu (liberation) arises from satsang (the company of spiritual seekers). The desire exhibited by others in the company will kindle in us a similar desire and give it swaroopa (form). The interaction with the teachers will result in kaarya (action) on our part. It will also help us give up pointless and worthless avadhi (pursuits) and create a purpose to which we are dedicated. The desire can be manda (mild), madhyama (medium) or tivra (strong). The strength of the mumukshutvam (desire for freedom) can be increased by the constant practice of Viveka and Vairagya. The stronger the desire, the faster the progress towards spiritual satisfaction.
Sadhana is not difficult but requires deep personal involvement and commitment. It is not about running away from the world. It is about living in the world and understanding it for what it is. The sadhak uses the rationale of the mind to distinguish between the real and unreal, and practises Vairagya to give up all that is unreal while directing attention to the real until the six treasures are visible and the passion for liberation naturally arises.
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