Chapter Two: Advaita Vedanta
The four Vedas of India are some of the oldest literature on the planet. These texts were (and still are) the basis for a Brahmanic priestly class playing the role in northern Indian settlements as ritual mediators between the human and cosmic orders
Around 2700 or more years ago, the first of a new body of literature (after the long existing Vedas) was created by unknown editors weaving together “forest texts”. These texts by mostly now unknown persons are called the “Upanishads”. Thirteen “principal” Upanishads were written between the 7th and 2nd Centuries B.C.E., with the first one coming out of the far northeastern region of India between the Ganges River and the Himalayan mountain range.
These texts are regarded as the originating voices for one of the traditions or primary schools in “Hinduism” known as Advaita Vedanta. Advaita means “not-two” and Vedanta refers to the “end of the Vedas”. The earliest Upanishads represented a new development in focus, a reorientation in purpose from the hymns of the Vedas, and a deepening in understanding of the nature of existence. They were speculative musings shared by reclusive hermits to small numbers of receptive listeners, who often sought these sages out in their simple settings in the forests. (Even traveling great distances.)
In the seventh century B.C.E., when the first texts were voiced, society was transitioning from the agricultural and tribal/village basis to urban settements with kings and princes emerging from assemblies of the old tribes.
There had been a highly advanced culture of urban cities in the northwest region (of what is now mostly Pakistan) from around 2500 BCE to about 1700BCE, before major geological changes impacted the Indus Valley river civilizations. These changes entailed the drying up of the Sarasvati river plain adjacent to the Indus river and this resulted in a shifting of settlements to the Ganges River, running from northwest to the east across northern India.
Artifacts found at these ancient sites includes seals with images of what appears to be a seated yogi. Along with that Shiva-like image, there were signs of worship of the phallus and of the goddess.
Not long after the fall of the Indus Valley river civilization with its extensive urban communities and advanced development features, a vibrant commerce and art scene, the people called the Indo-European “Aryans”, centered in pasturelands around the Caspian and Black Seas, began moving into India via the Iranian steppes. They were a nomadic people with herds of cows and an adept use of horses and chariots.
These migrating and invading people were the creators and priests of the Vedas. (There is a different historical version by Hindu political fundamentalists, the Indian and western scholars sympathetic to them, and also suggested by genetic background studies of Indians: the Aryans were already a long standing presence.)
The Vedas are hymns that were ritually sung to the gods to assure stability, order, harmony and prosperity for the people singing them. The people saw a need to maintain a regular ritual practice of sacrifice on behalf of the gods, who were personifications of primal forces in nature. The hymns were sung (with a fire going) to summon Agni, Indra, and others while participants drank the intoxicating Soma. One of the key sacrifices made was of a horse, treated special for a whole year, in order to assure the health and expansion of one’s lands.
(The very first Upanishad would take that outer, flesh and blood sacrifice of the horse and instead present it as a symbolic and inner sacrificial process.)
The first Upanishads appeared in the northeastern region of India where the Brahmanic/Vedic order had less of a hold than in the regions to the west where it had a longer presence. Around the 8th or 7th Century B.C.E, “forest texts” (the “Aranyakas”) were being spoken by renunciate settlers in the forests in an attempt to provide deeper esoteric and symbolic meaning to the songs of the Vedas.
So (for example), the external fire of the ritual then became seen as an inner fire effecting an internal sacrifice that brings to light one’s true nature.
For almost a thousand years, the Aryan culture had been creatively mixing with the pre- existing Indian culture, and so what appears to be some primitive yogic meditation elements among groups of wandering hermits in the non-Vedic culture, may be a major factor inspiring this new body of literature. Plus, the kings and warriors of the north eastern region were questioning the rituals, because the magic didn’t seem to work and the payment in cows way too much cost.
Despite many projecting their presumptions upon the image of the seated man (as being a “yogi”) on the ancient seal, there are no indications of clearly discerned meditation and yogic practices before the time period of the Upanishads and the Buddha. What is seen in the “record” of things are some precursors to these practices: chants and intense concentration used in the Vedic rituals.
There were also two groups of wandering hermits noted in the Vedas who likely had some impact on the development of yoga and meditation, but who were not a part of the Brahmanic-Vedic order itself, instead presented as ecstatic and noteworthy seers. The Keshins were long haired ecstatics who worshipped Rudra, a precursor of the
Shiva character and the Vratyas were also wandering non-Vedic hermits who apparently had breath control exercises, expressed non dual sentiments, and developed strong concentrative skills.
“Here is the “hymn” about the Keshins in a late chapter (10) of the Rig Veda (“Praise of Knowledge”):
He with the long loose locks supports Agni, and moisture, heaven, and earth: He is all sky to look upon: he with long hair is called this light.
The Munis, girdled with the wind, wear garments soiled of yellow hue.
They, following the wind’s swift course go where the Gods have gone before.
Transported with our Munihood we have pressed on into the winds: You therefore, mortal men. behold our natural bodies and no more.
The Muni, made associate in the holy work of every God, Looking upon all varied forms flies through the region of the air.
The Steed of Vāta, Vāyu’s friend, the Muni, by the Gods impelled, In both the oceans hath his home, in eastern and in western sea.
Treading the path of sylvan beasts, Gandharvas, and Apsarases,
He with long locks, who knows the wish, is a sweet most delightful friend
Vāyu hath churned for him: for him he poundeth things most hard to bend, When he with long loose locks hath drunk, with Rudra, water from the cup. —Translation by Ralph T. H. Griffith”
The wanderers on the periphery of society known as the Vratyas were described in the last Veda, the Atharva Veda ( the relevant section translated by the late Georg Feuerstein here). They too worshipped Rudra, apparently had breath control exercises, and were ecstatics:
“[Once] there was a Vrātya roaming about. He stirred up Prajāpati [Lord of Creatures].
He, Prajāpati, beheld gold within Himself. He brought it forth.
That [gold] became the One; that became the Forehead-sign-bearer; that became
the Great; that became the Foremost; that became the brahman; that became the creative power; that became Truth; by this He brought [Himself] forth.
He grew; He became the Great; He became the Great God.
He surrounded the supremacy
of the Gods; He became [their] ruler.
He became the One Vrātya; he took a bow; that was Indra’s bow.
Its belly was blue; red the back.
With the blue [side of the bow] He encompasses
hostile clans; with the red [side] he
pierces the hateful [enemy]. Thus say the teachers of brahman.
(Georg Feuerstein translation)”
[Reference Note: above quotes posted in online Google Document “Dating the Vedas”]
The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad emerged around 2700 years ago as one of the first voices for the later identified tradition known as “Advaita Vedanta”. Organized in six sections with each further divided into many short chapters, the text is a compilation of separate “forest texts”. These texts were part of the Brahmanas and Aranyakas, both focusing on the inner and symbolic meanings of the specific Veda they were tied to.
[Reference Note: All translations of the Upanishad quoted here come from the work of Swami Nikhilananda, 1987: The posted translation referenced comes from this site, with the first Upanishad discussed in this chapter found here: http://www.bharatadesam.com/spiritual/upanishads/brihadaranyaka_upanishad.php]
A stanza prefaces this Upanishad, where a key note of Advaita Vedanta is expressed:
“Om. That is full; this is full. This fullness has been projected from that fullness. When this fullness merges in that fullness, all that remains is fullness.
Om. Peace! Peace! Peace!”
The first section of short chapters of the Brihadranyaka Upanishad addresses cosmological issues like and creation and the unfolding manifestation of the Universe. The Vedic worldview of gods, spirits, and demons are present still, in the picture given. But, everything manifesting is the play of the “One, without a second”, seemingly dividing Itself first into a male/female polarity, and from that point, seemingly becoming more complex and varied in appearances and action, but still always “One with no second” as It’s ultimate and ever-present Condtion.
(The discussion of the creation is first preceded by presenting the famous Horse Sacrifice as an internal, symbolic matter.)
This self was indeed Brahman in the beginning. It knew itself only as “I am Brahman.” Therefore it became all. And whoever among the gods had this enlightenment, also became That Brahman. It is the same with the seers (rishis), the same with men. The seer Vamadeva, having realized this self as That, came to know: “I was Manu and the sun.” And to this day, whoever in a like manner knows the self as “I am Brahman,” becomes all this universe.
The second section of short chapters begins by addressing the “relative aspects” of Brahman, prana or the life force associated with the breath, and “two forms” of Brahman. Yet, in the end, what can really be said about the ineffable nature of the One?
“Now, therefore, the description of Brahman: “Not this, not this” (Neti, Neti); for there is no other and more appropriate description than this “Not this.” Now the designation of Brahman: “The Truth of truth.” The vital breath is truth and It (Brahman) is the Truth of that.”
Next scene in this text entails the main leading character in this Upanishad, Yajnavalkya, presented in other scenes as a philosopher in the court of the King Janaka of Videha (in the northeastern corner of India). But, here, the short chapter shares the story of Yajnavalkya informing his two wives that he is going to renounce his current living circumstances and live as a renunciate in the forests:
“3) Then Maitreyi said: “What should I do with that which would not make me immortal? Tell me, venerable Sir, of that alone which you know to be the only means of attaining Immortality.”
4) Yajnavalkya replied: “My dear, you have been my beloved even before and now you say what is after my heart. Come, sit down; I will explain it to you. As I explain it, meditate on what I say.”
5) Then Yajnavalkya said: “Verily, not for the sake of the husband, my dear, is the husband loved, but he is loved for the sake of the self which, in its true nature, is one with the Supreme Self. “Verily, not for the sake of the wife, my dear, is the wife loved, but she is loved for the sake of the self. “Verily, not for the sake of the sons, my dear, are the sons loved, hut they are loved for the sake of the self. “Verily, not for the sake of wealth, my dear, is wealth loved, but it is loved for the sake of the self. “Verily, not for the sake of the brahmin, my dear, is the brahmin loved, but he is loved for the sake of the self. “Verily, not for the sake of the kshatriya, my dear, is the kshatriya loved, but he is loved for the sake of the self. “Verily, not for the sake of the worlds, my dear, are the worlds loved, but they are loved for the sake of the self. “Verily, not for the sake of the gods, my dear, are the gods loved, but they are loved for the sake of the self. “Verily, not for the sake of the beings, my dear, are the beings loved, but they are loved for the sake of the self. “Verily, not for the sake of the All, my dear, is the All loved, but it is loved for the sake of the self. “Verily, my dear Maitreyi, it is the Self that should be realized—should be heard of, reflected on and meditated upon. By the realization of the Self, my dear—through hearing, reflection and meditation—all this is known.”
After the chapter recording this conversation, Swami Nikhilananda’s translation renders the next chapter The Interdependence of Objects. Here the honey metaphor is used for a long list of “things”, the wording repeating for each one:
“This Earth is the honey (effect) of all beings and all beings are the honey (effect) of this earth. Likewise, the bright, immortal being who is in this earth and the bright, immortal, corporeal being who is in the body are both honey. These four are but this Self. The Knowledge of this Self is the means to Immortality; this underlying unity is Brahman; this Knowledge of Brahman is the means of becoming all.”
A further block of short chapters records the conversations and debates Yajnavalkya had with a wide variety of characters. Who they are and where they are from are detailed and therein is where this and other Upanishads give us a look into the scenes of those days.
Some of these dialogues occur in the kingly court of Janaka and include one with the leading character in another early Upanishad (the Chandogya), Uddalaka Aruni. In this case, a whole bunch of people are testing Yajnavalkya because he brazenly takes the reward of a thousand cows with gold from the king after no one else asserts the knowledge he requests. Uddalaka’s testing of him is just one of the recorded conversations in this section (3) of the text:
“1) Then Uddalaka, the son of Aruna, questioned him. “Yajnavalkya,” said he, “in the country of Madra we lived in the house of Patanchala, of the line of Kapi, studying the
scriptures on the sacrifices. His wife was possessed by a gandharva. We asked him: ‘Who are you?’ He said: ‘I am Kabandha, the son of Atharvan.’ He said to Patanchala Kapya and those studying the scriptures on the sacrifices: ‘O descendant of Kapi, do you know that Sutra by which this world, the other world and all beings are held together?’ Patanchala Kapya said: ‘I do not know it, venerable Sir.’ Then he said to Patanchala Kapya and those studying the scriptures on the sacrifices: ‘O descendant of Kapi, do you know that Inner Controller who controls this world, the next world and all beings?’ Patanchala Kapya said: ‘I do not know him, venerable Sir.’ Then he said to Patanchala Kapya and those studying the scriptures on the sacrifices: ‘O descendant of Kapi, he who knows that Sutra and that Inner Controller indeed knows Brahman; he knows the worlds, he knows the gods, he knows the Vedas, he knows the beings, he knows the self, he knows everything.’ He explained it all to them and I know it. If you, Yajnavalkya, do not know that Sutra and that Inner Controller and still take away the cows that belong only to the knowers of Brahman, your head will fall off.” “I know, O Gautama, that Sutra and that Inner Controller.” “Anyone might say: ‘I know, I know.’ Tell us what you know.”
2) Yajnavalkya said: “Vayu, O Gautama, is that Sutra. By Vayu, as by a thread, O Gautama, are this world, the other world and all beings held together. Therefore, O Gautama, they say of a person who dies that his limbs have been loosened; for they are held together by Vayu as by a thread.” “Quite so, Yajnavalkya. Now describe the Inner Controller.”
3) Yajnavalkya said: “He who inhabits the earth, yet is within the earth, whom the earth does not know, whose body the earth is and who controls the earth from within—He is your Self, the Inner Controller, the Immortal.” “
Turns out, Yajnavalkya does satisfy all the testers here.
The next section starts with a chapter that reveals a lot of what other people were teaching and saying:
“1) Om. Janaka, Emperor of Videha, was seated to give audience when Yajnavalkya arrived. The Emperor said to him: “Yajnavalkya, for what purpose have you come here? With a desire for cattle, or to hear some subtle questions asked?” “For both, Your Majesty,” said he.
2) Yajnavalkya said: “Let me hear what anyone among your teachers may have told you.” “Jitvan, the son of Silina, told me that the organ of speech (fire) is Brahman.” “As anyone who had the benefit of being taught by a good mother, father and teacher should say, so did the son of Silina say that the organ of speech is Brahman; for what can be attained by a person who cannot speak? But did he tell you about its abode
(body) and support?” “No, he did not.” “This Brahman is only one—footed, Your Majesty.” “Then you tell us, O Yajnavalkya.” “The physical organ of speech is its abode and the akasa is its support. It should be mediated upon as intelligence.” “What is intelligence, O Yajnavalkya?” “It is the organ of speech, Your Majesty,” said Yajnavalkya. “Through the organ of speech alone, O Emperor, are known the Rig— Veda, the Yagur—Veda, the Sama—Veda, the Atharvangirasa, history, ancient lore, the arts, the Upanishads, verses, aphorisms, explanations, commentaries, the results of sacrifices, the result of offering oblations in the fire, the results of giving food and drink, this world, the next world and all beings. “The organ of speech, Your Majesty, is the Supreme Brahman. The organ of speech never deserts him who, knowing this, meditates upon it; all beings eagerly approach him; and being a god, he attains the gods.” “I give you a thousand cows with a bull as large as an elephant,” said Emperor Janaka. Yajnavalkya replied: “My father was of the opinion that one should not accept gifts from a disciple without fully instructing him.” “
In this section, the notion of reincarnation is introduced in subsequent chapters. It is during this time period that people begin to talk about reincarnation, a concept not revealed or perhaps known in the Vedic milieu. This was new. The process of rebirth is also discussed in the last (#6) section.
Insofar as the period before rebirth, here’s a metaphorical picture of the departing soul and the space where it goes for ‘endless years’:
“When a man departs from this world, he reaches the air. The air opens there for him as wide as the hole of a chariot wheel. Through this opening he ascends and reaches the sun. The sun opens there for him as wide as the hole of a lambara. By this opening he ascends and reaches the moon. The moon opens there for him as wide as the hole of a drum. By this opening he ascends and reaches a World free from grief and cold. There he dwells for endless years.”
Chapter one of section five opens up with a clear Cosmological picture (and we’ll close out on this text here):
“Om. Infinite is That Brahman, infinite in this manifested universe. From the Infinite Brahman proceeds the infinite. After the realization of the Great Identity or after the cosmic dissolution, when the infinity of the infinite universe merges in the Infinite Brahman, there remains the Infinite Brahman alone. Om is the Akasa Brahman—the primeval akasa. It is the akasa containing air, says the son of Kauravayarn. It (Om) is the Veda—thus the knowers of Brahman know; for through it one knows what is to he known.”
The Chandogya Upanishad was also written around the 7th Century B.C.E. Like the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, it is an edited collection of separate forest texts.
It has eight main sections with each containing many short chapters and is very long.
This Upanishad is very descriptive of so many Vedic ritual practices as it delves into the import and impact of intoning and meditating on the syllable “OM” . Speech, the life force (prana) that is linked closely to the breath, and the sound OM as representative of the essence of all that is are all linked together as a dynamic which brings to light our most essential nature as Brahman, the One without a second.
Prana, or the life force vitally linked with the breath, and space (“akasa” in this and other texts) are often metaphorically referenced to illustrate the all pervasive nature of Brahman.
The noteworthy leading character in this Upanishad is Uddalaka Aruni, who in the section 6 chapters engages his son Svetaketu in an extensive consideration that exposes the revelation, “You are That” (i.e. Brahman, the One without a second). He is first mentioned in section 3, chapter 11, “The Result of the Meditation on the Honey Doctrine” (which is the interdependence of everything and was similarly expressed in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad):
“1. Now, after having risen thence upwards, it (i.e. the sun) rises and sets no more. It remains alone in the centre. And on this there is the following verse:
2. “There (i.e. in Brahmaloka) the sun neither rises nor sets at any time. O ye gods, if this is true, may I never fall from Brahman!”
3. Verily, for him who thus knows this Brahma—Upanishad, the sun does not rise or set. For him it is day for ever.
4. This doctrine Brahma told to Prajapati, Prajapati to Manu, Manu to his offspring. And to Uddalaka Aruni this doctrine of Brahman was narrated by his father.”
Three chapters further, “The Sandilya Doctrine”, there’s a summary statement that presages the revelation of the father-son consideration in section 6:
“1. All this is Brahman. From It the universe comes forth, in It the universe merges and in It the universe breathes. Therefore a man should meditate on Brahman with a calm mind. Now, verily, a man consists of will. As he wills in this world, so does he become when he has departed hence. Let him with this knowledge in mind form his will. 2—
3. He who consists of the mind, whose body is subtle, whose form is light, whose thoughts are true, whose nature is like the akasa, whose creation in this universe, who cherishes all righteous desires, who contains all pleasant odours, who is endowed with all tastes, who embraces all this, who never speaks and who is without longing— He is my Self within the heart, smaller than a grain of rice, smaller than a grain of barley, smaller than a mustard seed, smaller than a grain of millet; He is my Self within the heart, greater than the earth, greater than the mid—region, greater than heaven, greater than all these worlds.
4. He whose creation is this universe, who cherishes all desires, who contains all odours, who is endowed with all tastes, who embraces all this, who never speaks and who is without longing—He is my Self within the heart, He is that Brahman. When I shall have departed hence I shall certainly reach Him: one who has this faith and has no doubt will certainly attain to that Godhead. Thus said Sandilya, yea, thus he said.”
Uddalaka’s son Svetaketu at the age of 12 began the traditional 12 year long term of study of the Vedas under a Brahmin teacher (and, in the circumstances of the teacher’s household). As is explained by Uddalaka (to his son) at the beginning of Chapter one in Section 6, in encouraging his son to “lead the life of a brahmacharin”, that “there is none belonging to our family, my dear, who, not having studied the Vedas, is a brahmin only by birth.”
At the age of 24, Svetaketu returns home, and his father makes an inquiry that perhaps is suggestive of the freshness of Upanishadic revelation at this time: “Svetaketu, since you are now so serious, think yourself well read and are so arrogant, have you, my dear, ever asked for that instruction by which one hears what cannot be heard, by which one perceives what cannot be perceived, by which one knows what cannot be known?”
Svetaketu asks for the instruction and his father begins:
“ “Just as, my dear, by one clod of clay all that is made of clay is known, the modification being only a name, arising from speech, while the truth is that all is clay; ……..by one nugget of gold all that is made of gold is known, the modification being only a name, arising from speech, while the truth is that all is gold;……by one pair of nail-scissors all that is made of iron is known, the modification being only a name, arising from speech, while the truth is that all is iron—even so, my dear,” said the father. [note: this was the early period of the “Iron Age” and metal works utilizing iron for the first time].”
Svetaketu responds with an observation that his teachers must not have known this, for nothing of the sort was ever revealed to him. He asks his father to continue instructing him in this vein, which Uddalaka does:
“ “In the beginning, my dear, this universe was Being (Sat) alone, one only without a second. Some say that in the beginning this was non-being (asat) alone, one only without a second; and from that non-being, being was born.”
Aruni said: “But how, indeed, could it be thus, my dear? How could Being be born from non-being? No, my dear, it was Being alone, that existed in the beginning, one only without a second”. “
The father continues by describing the singular Being creatively unfolding and growing “forth” and manifesting as the many appearances and the apparent individuated beings of all types. And, how everything appearing “have their root in Being, they dwell in Being, they finally rest in Being.”
In his long consideration with his son, Uddalaka Aruni is directing him to recognizing the essence in “all that exists” and then to realize Tat Tvam Asi: “Your are That”.
That is the core Realization pointed at in Advaita Vedanta tradition.
The final section (8) begins with a chapter utilizing images and symbolic pointers that would be developed or elaborated on over subsequent centuries. The imagery describes our subtle anatomy and physiology:
“Om. There is in this city of Brahman an abode, the small lotus of the heart; within it is a small akasa [“space”]. Now what exists within that small akasa, that is to be sought after, that is what one should desire to understand.
If they should say to him, “Now, with regard to the abode, the small lotus, in this city of Brahman and the small akasa within it—what is there in it that is to be sought after and what is there that one should desire to understand?” Then the teacher should say: “As far as this great akasa extends, so far extends the akasa within the heart. Both heaven and earth are contained within it, both fire and air, both sun and moon, both lightening and stars; and whatever belongs to him in this world and whatever does not, all that is contained within it (i.e. the akasa in the heart).”
If the pupil should ask: “If everything that exists—all beings and all desires—is contained in this city of Brahmin, then what is left of it when old age overcomes it or when it perishes?”
Then the teacher should say: “With the old age of the body, That (i.e. Brahman, described as the akasa in the heart) does not age; with the death of the body, That does not die. That Brahman and not the body is the real city of Brahman. In it all desires are contained. It is the Self—free from sin, free from old age, free from death, free from grief, free from hunger…..” “
The Taittreya Upanishad emerged just a little later than the Brihadaranyaka and Chandogya Upanishads and also appears to be from just before the time of the Buddha. It is much shorter than the other two, having three sections of short chapters.
The first section relates mostly to the ways and conditions of the passing on of Vedic teachings and practices in the teacher/student relationship, starting with the importance of proper pronounciation and intonation. Here are some excerpts painting the teaching/student scenes of those times, first the disciplines described in Chapter 9 and then a final exhortation to departing students in Chapter 11:
“(Chapter 9, Section 1)
The disciplines are rightness and also the learning and teaching; truth and also the learning and teaching of the Vedas; austerity and also the learning and teaching of the Vedas; self—control and also the learning and teaching of the Vedas; tranquillity and also the learning and teaching of the Vedas; the kindling of sacrificial fires and also the learning and teaching of the Vedas; the performance of the Agnihotra sacrifice and also the learning and teaching of the Vedas; hospitality to guests and also the learning and teaching of the Vedas; the perfromance of social duties and also the learning and teaching of the Vedas; procreation and also the learning and teaching of the Vedas; propagation of the race and also the learning and teaching of the Vedas. Differing views on the subject: Truth alone, according to Satyvachas of the line of Rathitara, should be practised; austerity alone, according to Taponitya the son of Purusishti; according to Naka the son of Mudgalya, the learning and teaching of the Vedas alone, for that is austerity.
(Excerpt from Chapter 11, Section 1)
Having taught the Vedas, the teacher thus instructs the pupil: Speak the truth. Practise dharma. Do not neglect the study of the Vedas. Having brought to the teacher the gift desired by him, enter the householder’s life and see that the line of progeny is not cut off. Do not swerve from the truth. Do not swerve from dharma. Do not neglect personal welfare. Do not neglect prosperity. Do not neglect the study and teaching of the Vedas.
Also in this first section I am seeing early imagery that would be elaborated upon in great depth over subsequent centuries. This imagery relates to the esoteric anatomy of
realization, like the reference here to the sushumma (which is the central line in the body corresponding the to the path of the spine and beyond into the crown of the head) and to the space in the heart:
(Chapter 6, Section 1)
There is a space within the heart; in it lies the Person consisting of mind, immortal and luminous. The Sushumna passes through the piece of flesh which hangs down like a nipple between the two palates and ends where the skull splits and the roots of hair lie apart. That Sushumna is the path for the realisation of Indra. The souls of the aspirants, passing through the Sushumna, rests in fire, represented by the vyahriti Bhuh; the rests in the air, represented by the vyahriti Bhuvah.
He rests in the sun, represented by the vyahriti Suvah; he rests in Brahman, represented by the vyahriti Mahah. He attains self—rule. He attains the lordship of the mind; he attains the lordship of speech; he attains the lordship of sight; he attains the lordship of hearing; he attains the lordship of intelligence. Furthermore, he becomes this—he becomes Brahman, whose body is space, whose nature is true, who delights in life and rejoices in the mid, who abounds in peace, who is immortal. Thus do thou, O Prachinayogya, contemplate.”
Like in the Chandogya Upanishad, the syllable “OM” is presented as the focus for meditation, as suggested in this last line from Chapter 8 of Section 1: “When a Vedic teacher wishes to obtain Brahman he utters OM; thus desiring Brahman, he verily obtains Brahman.”
Sections 2 and 3 of this Upanishad shift the focus solely on Brahman and to the point that “he who knows Brahman attains the Supreme” (Chapter 1 of Section 2).
In Section 2, five sheaths that (so to speak) cover Brahman and represent subtler and subtler expressions of that One are introduced and described. This is a very early expression of the esoteric anatomy of described in greater depth in the Advaita Vedanta tradition. The food sheath is the grossest, the bliss body the subtlest (and at this time seen as the highest level). Later on in time, as Vedantic understandings deepened, the ultimate Realization would be seen as being beyond the bliss body or sheath.
The late Georg Feuerstein, in his encyclopedic The Yoga Tradition, notes this about the Taittiriya Upanishad and the content in Section 2:
“The Taittiriya Upanishad has preserved many archaic teachings that were part of the cultural background of those adepts who crafted the early yogic technology. It is also in
this scripture (Section 2, chapter four, verse one) that we find the very first unequivocal occurrence of the word ‘yoga’ in the technical sense, apparently standing for the sage’s control of the fickle senses….”
Section 3 entails a father/son dialogue (Varuna and Bhrigu) and here is Georg Feuerstein’s takeaway from that:
“Probably the most fascinating teaching of the T-U is the doctrine, received and transmitted by Bhrigu, that everything is to be looked upon as food. This is an early ecological idea, referring to the interlinkage of all things…..This extends the notion, mentioned earlier, of the sacrificial nature of human existence to all forms of life. There is nothing dreadful about this thought, for, in the final analysis, life is deemed blissful. This is the most important discovery: that the Absolute is not a dry, desertlike environment but supra conscious bliss beyond description. The T-U teaches that there are degrees of bliss…..up to the immeasurable bliss of the Absolute itself…”
[Reference Note: The Yoga Tradition by Georg Feuerstein, published by Hohm Press, 1999 and 2001, page 132]
The Katha Upanishad is a major Upanishad either written just before the time of the Buddha or during the period following the Buddha’s death in the 5th Century. (He was reportedly born in the 6th Century, in 563 B.C.E. and lived 80 years.) Scholars are divided on this question.
This Upanishad stands out in importance for its early referencing and describing of Yoga and meditation. As will be noted in the next chapter on Vipassana, we can get some idea of what teachings and meditation practices were in place during this time period, based on the stories of the Buddha’s own sadhana or practice under different teachers in his own time. Here in this Upanishad, the basic practice orientation and its fruits are described in Chapter 3 of Section One, starting with verse #3. In Verse #14, the reader may find the phrase “like the sharp edge of a razor is that path…..” oddly stands out in their awareness. That might be because this phrase is the source for the title of the famous literary work called A Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham! One- pointed concentration practices seem evident in the Buddha’s own milieu, as well as in this text:
“3 Know the atman to be the master of the chariot; the body, chariot; the intellect, the charioteer; and the mind, the reins.
4 The senses, they say, are the horses; the objects, the roads. The wise call the atman —united with the body, the senses and the mind—the enjoyer.
5 If the buddhi, being related to a mind that is always distracted, loses its discriminations, then the senses become uncontrolled, like the vicious horses of a charioteer.
6 But if the buddhi, being related to a mind that is always restrained, possesses discrimination, then the senses come under control, like the good horses of a charioteer.
7 If the buddhi, being related to a distracted mind, loses its discrimination and therefore always remains impure, then the embodied soul never attains the goal, but enters into the round of births.
8 But if the buddhi, being related to a mind that is restrained, possesses discrimination and therefore always remains pure, then the embodied soul attains that goal from which he is not born again.
9 A man who has discrimination for his charioteer and holds the reins of the mind firmly, reaches the end of the road; and that is the supreme position of Vishnu.
10—11 Beyond the senses are the objects; beyond the objects is the mind; beyond the mind, the intellect; beyond the intellect, the Great Atman; beyond the Great Atman, the Unmanifest; beyond the Unmanifest, the Purusha. Beyond the Purusha there is nothing: this is the end, the Supreme Goal.
12 That Self hidden in all beings does not shine forth; but It is seen by subtle seers through their one—pointed and subtle intellects.
13 The wise man should merge his speech in his mind and his mind in his intellect. He should merge his intellect in the Cosmic Mind and the Cosmic Mind in the Tranquil Self.
14 Arise! Awake! Approach the great and learn. Like the sharp edge of a razor is that path, so the wise say—hard to tread and difficult to cross.
15 Having realised Atman, which is soundless, intangible, formless, undecaying and likewise tasteless, eternal and odourless; having realised That which is without beginning and end, beyond the Great and unchanging—one is freed from the jaws of death.
16 The wise man who has heard and related the eternal story of Nachiketa, told by Death, is adored in the world of Brahman.
17 And he who, practising self—control, recites the supreme secret in an assembly of Brahmins or at a after—death ceremony obtains thereby infinite rewards. Yea, he obtains infinite rewards.”
The instructor here is Yama, the god of Death. The student is Nachiketas, who has found himself in Yama’s company due to his father’s anger. Nachiketas had urged his father to offer not the cows in a sad and sorry state as a sacrificial fee for the priests but instead offer him, his son, since his father didn’t have much. So, Nachiketas is given by his father to Yama. But, Yama is away from his realm (the afterlife) for three days and Nachiketas patiently waits for him, without food or water. This impresses Yama who grants the young man three wishes. The first is to go back home alive. Granted. The second is to learn the secrets of the fire sacrifice. Done, in detail. The third is to learn the secrets of the afterlife and the way of liberation. Yama tries to avoid granting this wish, offering in effect anything and everything under the sun that could possibly entice Nachiketas away from this wish. Doesn’t work.
Since Nachiketas doesn’t take the enticing and distracting bait, he is certainly exhibiting the type of maturity and readiness for such wisdom and Yama therefore instructs him.
This is a short text, two sections with each having three short chapters. It expresses some key imagery and notions, which are noted in these excerpts here:
“From Section 2, Chapter 2, verses 1 thru 3)
There is a city with eleven gates belonging to the unborn Atman of undistorted Consciousness. He who meditates on Him grieves no more; liberated from the bonds of ignorance, he becomes free. This, verily, is That.
He is the sun dwelling in the bright heavens. He is the air in the interspace. He is the fire dwelling on earth. He is the guest dwelling in the house. He dwells in men, in the gods, in truth, in the sky. He is born in the water, on earth, in the sacrifice, on the mountains. He is the True and the Great.
He it is who sends prana upward and who leads apana downward. All the devas worship that adorable One seated in the middle.
(And, verses 8 thru 15)
He, the Purusha, who remains awake while the sense—organs are asleep, shaping one lovely form after another, that indeed is the Pure, that is Brahman and that alone is called the Immortal. All worlds are contained in Him and none can pass beyond. This, verily, is That.
As the same non—dual fire, after it has entered the world, becomes different according to whatever it burns, so also the same non—dual Atman, dwelling in all beings, becomes different according to whatever It enters. And It exists also without.
As the same non—dual air, after it has entered the world, becomes different according to whatever it enters, so also the same non—dual Atman, dwelling in all beings, becomes different according to whatever It enters. And It exists also without.
As the sun, which helps all eyes to see, is not affected by the blemishes of the eyes or of the external things revealed by it, so also the one Atman, dwelling in all beings, is never contaminated by the misery of the world, being outside it.
There is one Supreme Ruler, the inmost Self of all beings, who makes His one form manifold. Eternal happiness belongs to the wise, who perceive Him within themselves —not to others.
There is One who is the eternal Reality among non—eternal objects, the one truly conscious Entity among conscious objects and who, though non—dual, fulfils the desires of many. Eternal peace belongs to the wise, who perceive Him within themselves—not to others.
The sages realise that indescribable Supreme Joy as “This is That.” How can I realise It? Is It self—luminous? Does It shine brightly, or not?
The sun does not shine there, nor the moon and the stars, nor these lightnings—not to speak of this fire. He shining, everything shines after Him. By His light all this is lighted.”
(And, in the last Chapter, 3, of this last Section, these verses, 8-14, describe the basic Yoga process that liberates. These verses are similar to part of the Yoga process laid out centuries later in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra)
“Beyond the Unmanifest is the Person, all—pervading and imperceptible. Having realised Him, the embodied self becomes liberated and attains Immortality.
His form is not an object of vision; no one beholds Him with the eye. One can know Him when He is revealed by the intellect free from doubt and by constant meditation. Those who know this become immortal.
When the five instruments of knowledge stand still, together with the mind and when the intellect does not move, that is called the Supreme State.
This, the firm Control of the senses, is what is called yoga. One must then be vigilant; for yoga can be both beneficial and injurious.
Atman cannot be attained by speech, by the mind, or by the eye. How can It be realised in any other way than by the affirmation of him who says: “He is”?
He is to be realised first as Existence limited by upadhis and then in His true transcendental nature. Of these two aspects, Atman realised as Existence leads the knower to the realisation of His true nature.
When all the desires that dwell in the heart fall away, then the mortal becomes immortal and here attains Brahman.”
A couple of centuries later, the Shvetashvatara Upanishad further expanded on this yogic and meditation process of liberation, as these three verses illustrate in Chapter 2 (8-10) of the short text of 6 Chapters:
“The wise man should hold his body steady, with the three upper parts erect, turn his senses, with the help of the mind, toward the heart and by means of the raft of Brahman cross the fearful torrents of the world.
The yogi of well regulated endeavours should control the pranas; when they are quieted he should breathe out through the nostrils. Then let him undistractedly restrain his mind, as a charioteer restrains his vicious horses.
Let yoga be practised within a cave protected from the high wind, or in a place which is level, pure and free from pebbles, gravel and fire, undisturbed by the noise of water or of market—booths and which is delightful to the mind and not offensive to the eye.”
Thought to be a text emerging a 300 to 400 years before the Common Era and around the same time of the first written renditions of the Bhagavad Gita, this Upanishad appears to be a product of ascetic sages (the Upanishad is named after one of them) who are associated with the “god” Shiva while the Bhagavad Gita focuses on the “god” Vishnu. This Upanishad appears to be less representative of the Brahmanic- Vedic cultural order and more expressive of the world of the wandering ascetic who has adopted some basic practices related to posture, breath, control of attention on the senses, one-pointed concentration, and meditation.
The Bhagavad Gita, along with the Upanishads, is regarded as a text central to Advaita Vedanta.
The last few verses of the Schvetashvatara Upanishad gives notice to the rising popularity of the Bhakti or devotional approach also highlighted in the Bhagavad Gita text:
When men shall roll up space as if it were a piece of hide, then there will be an end of misery without one’s cultivating the Knowledge of the Lord, who is without parts, without actions, tranquil, blameless, unattached, the supreme bridge to Immortality, an like a fire that has consumed all its fuel.
Through the power of austerity and through the grace of the Lord, the sage Svetasvatara realised Brahman and proclaimed the highly sacred Knowledge, supremely cherished by the company of seers, to sannyasins of the most advanced stage.
The profound mystery in the Vedanta was taught in the previous cycle. It should not be given to one whose passions have not been subdued, nor to one who is not a son or a disciple.
If these truths have been told to a high—minded person who feels the highest devotion for God and for his guru as for God, then they will surely shine forth as inner experiences—then, indeed, they will shine forth.
The India of fragmented kingdoms of Aryan kings underwent a major change a couple of centuries after the death of the Buddha in the 5th Century B.C.E that would greatly undermine the standing of the Brahmanic-Vedic order. Alexander the Great had arrived in the 4th Century with his army and after he left at the insistence of that army, Chandragupta with apparent relative ease conquered all the fragmented kingdoms of the north, unifying them in the Mauryan Empire. Which would last a couple of centuries and be largely responsible for the strength of the growing Buddhist movement during the reign of Asoka in the 3rd Century B.C.E. It was during this time that the values of non-violence and vegetarianism established their roots in the Indian culture.
While the Buddha, and the Upanishads, had emerged from the northeastern region of the Ganges River plain regions, in an atmosphere of support from the warrior class kings of that region and based on the voices of ascetics, yogis, sages, and warrior hermits (like the Vratyas of an older time), the Bhagavad Gita focuses on a setting further west and in the time when a warrior prince named Krishna lived. Krishna was based on the north west coast of India but the epic war tale that serves as the context for the Bhagavad Gita plays out among warring prince cousins in an area north and a little east of there.
The bhakti or devotional impulse of the people had always found expression among the public in parallel movements existing alongside the powerful Vedic order of Brahman priests. Over time, Vishnu, Shiva, and the Goddess would develop as personas to worship and meditate upon as a means to realize our ultimate identity by merging fully with them in that worship and meditation.
By the time India emerges from its so called Dark Ages (between the fall of the Mauryan Empire in 184 B.C.E. and the rise of the Gupta Dynasty in 320 C.E.) a very colorful and vibrant Bhakti scene is apparent. The energy of devotion was now enlivening even the austere (and atheisitic) world of Buddhism. By this time, focus on the Goddess and Shiva worship were primary, as they are today still though for the most part most Advaita Vedanta practitioners choose a non-sectarian and open focus (though Shaivite communities seem to predominate).
But, the Bhagavad Gita guarantees a primary place still for Vishnu devotion through the devotional regard of Krishna, seen as the Incarnation of Vishnu.
The Bhagavad Gita, or “The Song of God”, is an inserted text of 700 verses and 25 or so chapters and is in Book 6 of the massive war epic called the Mahabharata. Bharata is the ancient name for India. This war epic was attributed to an ancient sage named Ved Vsaya and scholars are really all over the place about the dating of the battle which is the focus of this epic tale. It is set in a really early Vedic period, but Arjuna’s magical arrows are made of iron so perhaps somewhere between 3200 and 2700 years ago makes sense (the beginning of the Iron Age and manufactured iron products).
The tale was passed on orally over a long period of time.
The Song of God, first crafted around 2300 or so years ago and in its final form around 1700 years ago at the start of the Gupta Dynasty, is a sidebar sermon in The Mahabharata.
Krishna’s instruction to the anguished Arjuna represents the growing weaving together of practices and teaching schools and bhakti movements during this time period, three hundred or so years before the start of the Common Era. Six hundred years later, the developed picture of things is basically what we call Hinduism today.
The various ways and practices that Krishna describes include the yogic meditation practices that would later be systemized in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (ie. “Raja Yoga”). Not everyone is suited with a capacity for this type of austere practice.
Krishna notes also the way of jnana, or the way of contemplative meditation that brings the direct realization of the true non-dual nature of existence. Not everyone is suited with a capacity for this way of knowledge.
Because Arjuna is really, really resisting inflicting massive harm on his cousins, and friends and teachers even!, Krishna also presents and argues on behalf of the ways and perspectives of the Brahmanic-Vedic order. Arjuna is a warrior, it’s his duty and responsibility. Krishna also uses the metaphysical classification system of the Samkhya school to help clarify the point about one’s place in the scheme of the great chain of being.
With Arjuna not yet convinced, Krishna has to delve deeper and here he introduces the ways of Karma Yoga and Bhakti Yoga. These are practices that CAN be widely practiced by people at all levels of capacity. What Krishna has to help Arjuna realize is a perspective that places him beyond identifying merely with the transitory situation and seeing it in terms of a personal outcome and impact.
In Karma Yoga, the practice is to surrender the desire for personal fruits or benefit from one’s actions. Surrender it all to God, who ultimately is NOT an other. As Georg Feuerstein explained in regards to the nature of God:
“The ethical activism of the B-G is founded on a panentheistic metaphysics: Everything exists or arises in God, while God nevertheless transcends everything. The supreme Being, Vishnu (as Krishna), is both the ultimate source of all existence and the manifest universe in its entire multiplicity. Vishnu encompasses Being as well as Becoming…..
Vishnu is the all-embracing Whole, the One and the Many. Since the Divine is everywhere and in everything, we do not have to shun the world in order to find Vishnu, but merely to cultivate our higher wisdom, the eye of gnosis to be able to apprehend the omnipresent Being-in-Becoming.”
[Reference Note: page 191 of Feuerstein’s The Yoga Tradition, Hohm Press]]
The way of bhakti yoga, which in this case involves devotional focus on Krishna as the “Divine Person”, resonated, and likely still does, with the capacities of the broadest numbers of people. Krishna noted that since the condition of God-Realization (the devotee finally recognizing themselves as none other than that One Divine Person) is Love itself, then expressive Love of God should be quite an effective sadhana or practice.
Arjuna finally asks Krishna to see his True Form, not the human form he adopted at that point in human history (to set things straight). Krishna does. Here Georg Feuerstein’s translation shows the vivid picture ensuing:
Out of favor for me, you have declared the supreme mystery called the deep Self by which this confusion of mine is dispelled.
Even as you have described [Your] Self, O supreme Lord, so do I desire to see your lordly Form, O supreme Person.
If, O Lord, you think it possible for me to behold that [cosmic Form of yours], O Lord of Yoga, then do reveal to me [your] immutable Self.
The Blessed Lord said:
O Partha, behold My forms [which are] a hundredfold, a thousandfold, of varied kinds, divine, many colored and many shaped………
[my note: two verses omitted here]
Yet never will you be able to see Me with this your [physical] eye. I will give you a divine eye. Behold my lordly Yoga.
Samjaya [the narrator of the dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna] said: [Omitted line, which says Krishna then reveals his Form to Arjuna]
[His Form has] many mouths and eyes, many marvelous appearances, many divine adornments, many divine upraised weapons,
wearing divine garlands and robes, anointed with divine fragrances, all wonderful. [Behold] the God, infinite, omnipresent.
If the splendor of a thousand suns were to arise at once in heaven, that would be like the splendor of the Great Self.
Then Pandava saw the whole world, divided manifold, abiding in the One, there in the [cosmic] body of the God of Gods.”
[Reference Note: page 193 of Feuerstein’s The Yoga Tradition, Hohm Press]
As the Bhagavad Gita, and other sections of The Mahabharata, reveals, quite a few teaching and practice threads were evident in these times. All the while these revelatory type texts were being created, texts that analyzed and commented upon the revelatory texts were written also, to shed light on any questions and sources of confusion that existed.
A text emerging 2 to 3 hundred years after the Common Era would provide a neatly organized and systemized examination of the Upanishads. It did so for the uncompromising position of the radical non dual perspective, with the apparent individual being (and all that exists) as non seperate and identical to the singular ultimate Being (called “Brahman”).
This text is called the Brahma or Vedanta Sutras and it is considered, along with the Bhagavad Gita and the main Upanishads, as a core text defining or framing the Advaita Vedanta tradition. The author is identified as Badarayana, a person scholars cannot seem to find consensus on (as to the actual identity).
Organized into four main sections, and then further subdivided by topic, this text of 555 aphorisms (terse in nature) presents the central points and imagery from the Upanishads and then does an extensive review and examination of the other schools, teachings, and practices that were in play up to that point.
Ohe of main competitors to Advaita Vedanta in the debate related to the fundamental nature of Reality was the Samkhya school. Samkhya focuses on an austere renunciation approach that includes meditation and an intellectually discriminative examination of the levels and aspects of both spiritual and material dimensions of existence. It has a dualistic orientation, envisioning liberation as a separation of the core spirit of the person from the material domain. Unlike the teaching argument of Advaita Vedanta, with liberation entailing the realization of one’s identity with the whole (which is NOT dissected into two domains, the spiritual and material),
The late scholar Georg Feuerstein explains, when noting the viewpoint of the 4th Century C.E. Samkhya-Karika (by Ishvara Krishna):
“On the one side are the countless mutable and unconscious forms of Nature (prakriti), and on the other side are the innumerable transcendental Selves (purusha), which are pure Consciousness, omnipresent and eternal.”
[Reference Note: page 75 of Feuerstein’s The Yoga Tradition, Hohm Press]
Badarayana’s Brahma or Vedanta Sutra, in its advocacy of the non-dualistic Advaita Vedanta school, also confronts the position of the “classic” Yoga school, which
likewise proposes a similar philosophical and metaphysical position of the Samkhya school.
What sets the Yoga school aside from the Samkhya school is its additional practice system of a progressively applied 8 “limbed” system of yogic and meditation practices designed to achieve the liberation of the individual soul from the material domain or “Nature”.
Despite the philosophical difference, the system of practice of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, tersely laid out in 196 aphorisms organized into four chapters around 1600 or 1700 years ago, has been adopted and incorporated by Advaita Vedanta practitioners as well as others from other traditions. This highly regarded text will be examined at various points throughout this book, due to the all pervasive impact of the practices developed over a period beginning at least 3000 years ago.
The Brahma Sutra also tries to distinguish the basic points of Advaita Vedanta from the Buddhist teachings on “emptiness” in particular (where nothing is noted to have an independent, intrinsic, and lasting existence). And, it also pushes back against other schools, like the “Consciousness Only” school of Yogacara.
An Advaita practitioner and Guru named Gaudapada, who was from around the 6th Century C.E. (there’s also little known about him), wrote an explanatory text on the Mandukya Upanishad, itself coming out several hundred years prior near the start of the Common Era. Gaudapada’s study and sympathy with emerging Mahayana Buddhist ideas, and assimilating those ideas with his own teachings, is an example of the extensive cross fertilization happening between the teaching and practice schools of the time.
The Upanishads we have covered so far in this chapter have a discernibly strong influence coming from the Yoga school with its austerity focus on concentration, breathing practices, and meditation. The Mandukya Upanishad, a little later in time than those previously looked at in this chapter, is only 12 verses long and focuses only on the primordial and non dual nature of Brahman as universal Consciousness, singular and unborn and undivided. That always existing and prior condition is the basic thread underlying our movements from the waking state, to the sleeping dream state, to the deep sleep state:
“I: Harih Aum! AUM, the word, is all this, the whole universe. A clear explanation of it is as follows: All that is past, present and future is, indeed, AUM. And whatever else there is, beyond the threefold division of time—that also is truly AUM.
II: All this is, indeed, Brahman. This Atman is Brahman. This same Atman has four quarters.
III: The first quarter is called Vaisvanara, whose sphere of activity is the waking state, who is conscious of external objects, who has seven limbs and nineteen mouths and who is the experiencer of gross objects.
IV: The second quarter is Taijasa, whose sphere of activity is the dream state, who is conscious of internal objects, who is endowed with seven limbs and nineteen mouths and who is the experiencer of subtle objects.
V: That is the state of deep sleep wherein one asleep neither desires any object nor sees any dream. The third quarter is Prajna, whose sphere is deep sleep, in whom all experiences become unified, who is, verily, a mass of consciousness, who is full of bliss and experiences bliss and who is the door leading to the knowledge of dreaming and waking.
VI: He is the Lord of all. He is the knower of all. He is the inner controller. He is the source of all; for from him all beings originate and in him they finally disappear.
VII: Turiya is not that which is conscious of the inner (subjective) world, nor that which is conscious of the outer (objective) world, nor that which is conscious of both, nor that which is a mass of consciousness. It is not simple consciousness nor is It unconsciousness. It is unperceived, unrelated, incomprehensible, uninferable, unthinkable and indescribable. The essence of the Consciousness manifesting as the self in the three states, It is the cessation of all phenomena; It is all peace, all bliss and non—dual. This is what is known as the Fourth (Turiya). This is Atman and this has to be realized.”
[Reference Note: Swami Nikhilananda translation, 1987, verses 1-7; see initial information on publishing source]
The Gaudapada Karika addresses this prime Fourth Condition, Turiya in these verses of Chapter One (of four altogether):
“10 Turiya, the changeless Ruler, is capable of destroying all miseries. All other entities being unreal, the non—dual Turiya alone is known as effulgent and all—pervading.
11 Visva and Taijasa are conditioned by cause and effect. Prajna is conditioned by cause alone. Neither cause nor effect exists in Turiya.
12 Prajna does not know anything of self or non—self, of truth or untruth. But Turiya is ever existent and all—seeing.
13 Non—cognition of duality is common to both Prajna and Turiya. But Prajna is associated with sleep in the form of cause and this sleep does not exist in Turiya.
14 The first two, Visva and Taijasa, are associated with dreaming and sleep respectively; Prajna, with Sleep bereft of dreams. Knowers of Brahman see neither sleep nor dreams in Turiya.
15 Dreaming is the wrong cognition and sleep the non—cognition, of Reality. When the erroneous knowledge in these two is destroyed, Turiya is realized.
16 When the jiva, asleep under the influence of beginningless maya, is awakened, it then realizes birthless, sleepless and dreamless Non—duality.
17 If the phenomenal universe were real, then certainly it would disappear. The universe of duality which is cognized is mere illusion (maya); Non—duality alone is the Supreme Reality.
18 If anyone imagines illusory ideas such as the teacher, the taught and the scriptures, then they will disappear. These ideas are for the purpose of instruction. Duality ceases to exist when Reality is known.”
The Mandukya Upanishad concludes by using the primal syllable AUM (aka OM) as a contemplative focal point helping to Realize the soundless Fourth Condition pervading all unfolding transitory states:
“VIII: The same Atman explained before as being endowed with four quarters is now described from the standpoint of the syllable AUM. AUM, too, divided into parts, is viewed from the standpoint of letters. The quarters of Atman are the same as the letters of AUM and the letters are the same as the quarters. The letters are A, U and M.
IX: Vaisvanara Atman, whose sphere of activity is the waking state, is A, the first letter of AUM, on account of his all— pervasiveness or on account of his being the first. He who knows this obtains all desires and becomes first among the great.
X: Taijasa Atman, whose sphere of activity is the dream state, is U, the second letter of AUM, on account of his superiority or intermediateness. He who knows this attains a superior knowledge, receives equal treatment from all and finds in his family no one ignorant of Brahman.
XI: Prajna Atman, whose sphere is deep sleep, is M, the third letter of AUM, because both are the measure and also because in them all become one. He who knows this is able to measure all and also comprehends all within himself.
XII: The Fourth (Turiya) is without parts and without relationship; It is the cessation of phenomena; It is all good and non—dual. This AUM is verily Atman. He who knows this merges his self in Atman—yea, he who knows this.”
Several centuries later in his Karika, Gaudapada weighs in on those concluding verses:
“25 The mind should be concentrated on AUM. AUM is the fearless Brahman. He who is always absorbed in AUM knows no fear whatever.
26 AUM is verily the Lower Brahman. It is also stated to be the Higher Brahman. AUM is beginningless and unique. There is nothing outside it. It is unrelated to any effect and is immutable.
27 AUM is, indeed, the beginning, middle and end of all things. He who has realized AUM as immutable immediately attains the Supreme Reality.
28 Know AUM to be Isvara, ever present in the hearts of all. The calm soul, contemplating AUM as all—pervading, does not grieve.
29 One who knows AUM, which is soundless and also endowed with infinite sounds, which is all good and the negation of duality, is a real sage and none other.”
Gaudapada has been identified as part of a lineage of Gurus in the centuries following the start of the Common Era who were arguing the radical non dualism of Advaita Vedanta, based largely on the Upanishadic revelation texts.
In the late 8th Century C.E. a figure named Shankara was born and in his short 32 years on Earth assured the survival of Advaita Vedanta as the primary school in India. Shankara’s Guru was either the disciple of Gaudapada himself, or perhaps there were a few other Gurus in between. Scholars are unsure, not unusual given the overall manner of historical record keeping over the centuries in India.
(Idealistic or hagiographic type of historical reports aren’t necessarily noted for precise dating, especially when there seems to be an interest in pushing personalities and stories and teachings way back into antiquity in order to grant a higher level of authority to them, often including the grafting of some Cosmic or Divine dimensions onto their origin or nature.)
The central texts of the Advaita Vedanta school are the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita and the Brahma or Vedanta Sutra. Shankara wrote extensive commentaries on these texts and that body of literature still exists today as part of the study focus of practitioners.
Shankara in his short life traveled widely, promoting the teachings of Advaita and engaging in debates with those representing other schools (like Buddhism, still very strong in India at this time).
He also established in the north, south, west, and eastern sections of India monastic, education, and practice centers called Maths. These establishments still exist today for study and practice, the focus being on the core texts and extensive body of explanatory literature. Following the lead of Shankara, these Maths generally have maintained the “Smartha” tradition of non sectarian devotional practices that are not limited to any one “god” or “goddess” in the Hindu pantheon. (Gods and goddesses are generally seen as metaphoric representations of some aspect of existence and reality.)
In the 1200 years since Shankara, various anonymous voices expressed, in what are now regarded as classical texts, clear and often very precise pictures of the nature and ways of Realization (of our most essential nature as One without a second). So much more is actually addressed, with greater light shed on the ways of Realization and its nature.
The four texts that I will survey also exhibit the signs of the creative cross fertilization going on with Advaita Vedanta, Kashmir Shaivism, Goddess-Shakti movements, and the “higher” Tantra and Dzogchen teachings and practices emerging in Tibetan Buddhism. Tibet and other regions at that time became more the home base for Buddhism, which had a lessened influence in India during the centuries after Shankara when the Muslims gained dominance there.
This chapter will conclude with an examination of these four texts:
1.) The Ashtavakra Gita, approximately 500 years old.
2.) The Avadhuta Gita, approximately 500 years old.
3.) The Ribhu Gita, a portion of the Shiva Rahasya text and perhaps around 1000 years old.
4.) The Tripura Rahasya, is also a medieval era text with an imprecise date but attributed to an unknown Goddess-Shakti worshipper.
The identities of the authors of these works are completely unknown. The texts use the framework of old epic tales from the encyclopedic works known as the Puranas (which describe past events and characters). The dialogues recorded in these works are generally attributed to ancient famous Sages and their disciples. Characters and settings are used in these medieval texts that date back to the earliest days of the Upanishads, 2700 plus years ago.
The Ashtavakra Gita is a dialogue among characters living over two thousands years prior to it being composed. The King Janaka, living and ruling around 2700 years ago in the northeastern kingdom of Videha, receives a direct introduction to his “real nature” from an unknown sage named Ashtavakra:
“Part one, verse 12:
Your real nature is as the one perfect, free, and action less consciousness, the all- pervading witness—unattached to anything, desire less and at peace. It is from illusion that you seem to be involved in samsara.
Part one, verse 13:
Meditate on yourself as motionless awareness, free from any dualism, giving up the mistaken idea that you are just a derivative consciousness or anything external or internal.”
The King gets it:
“Part two, verse 1:
Truly I am spotless and at peace, the awareness beyond causality. All this time I have been afflicted by delusion.”
[Reference Note: Translation by John Richards of the Ashtavakra Gita is viewable and freely offered at http://realization.org/ ]
A late medieval work, like the Ashtavakra Gita around 500 years old, and called The Avadhuta Gita, uses the instructive voice of the legendary original and primal Guru, Dattatreya. Stories about Dattatreya in the epic chronicles called the Puranas place him in a time period as far back as 7000 years ago.
Dattatreya is presented in this body of literature in a wide ranging way, as an austere ascetic to someone hedonistically consorting with women and drinking alcohol.
This Gita is the “song” of an Avadhut, who is an enlightened and realized character animating an unconventional lifestyle with wild and disruptive ways confronting the conditioned and rigid ways of the conventional order and the usual mind-sets of people. Speaking to two disciples, Dattatreya explains the basis for the Avadhut having shed all concerns, openly ecstatic in their ways:
“Chapter one, verse 54:
I have neither teacher nor instruction, limiting adjunct nor activity; know that I am by nature pure, homogenous, bodiless, like the sky.
Chapter one, verse 73:
The avadhuta alone, pure in evenness of feeling, abides happy in an empty dwelling place. Having renounced all, he moves about naked. He perceives the Absolute, the All, within himself.
Chapter two, verse 30:
He who has seen his true Self, which is innate, unborn, and incomprehensible, does not, if anything desired happens to him, becomes tainted. Being free from taint, he never performs any action. The man of self-restraint or the ascetic, therefore is never bound.”
Dattatreya, an Avadhut no longer identified and fused with (or entranced by) the activity of the mind, attempts to have his listeners cut through all possible conceptualization regarding it all:
“Chapter one, verse 4:
All is the absolute Self,
Distinction and non distinction do not exist. How can I say, ‘It exists, it does not exist?” I am filled with wonder.
Chapter two, verse 58:
There is no need of knowledge, reasoning, time, space, instruction from a teacher, or attainment of samadhi. I am naturally the perfect Consciousness, the Real, like the sky, spontaneous and steady.”
I found another series of verses fascinating for what they reveal about the obvious cross fertilization with the varying traditions during this late medieval time period. Also, Dattatreya in these verses is making the point that Realization is not necessarily dependent on the yogic and tantric tools that at this point were very popular. In these verses, we can see clear references to imagery and notions from Kashmir Shaivism and Dzogchen (which I will note after the quote here):
“Chapter Two, verse 32:
He attains to the supreme, eternal Self [my note: Non-Dual Consciousness Itself], in whom exists no Veda, no initiation, no tonsure, no teacher, no disciple, no perfection of symbolic figures, no hand-posture, or anything else.
He attains to the supreme, eternal Self, in whom is neither sambhavi, nor skate, no anava-upaya initiation; neither a sphere, nor an image, nor a foot; neither beginning, nor ending….
He attains to the supreme, eternal Self, from whose essence the universe of moveable and immoveable objects is born, in whom it rests, and into whom it dissolves, even as foam and bubbles are born of transformation of water.
He attains to the supreme, eternal Self, in whom is no closing of the nostril, nor gazing nor posture, and in whom is neither knowledge or ignorance nor any nerve current.”
The Avadhut has just swept away the whole, vibrant complex of teachings and practices of the day, including the increasingly elaborate and colorful Vajrayana Buddhism and the energetic or shake oriented Kashmir Shaivism. He says they aren’t really necessary for Realization.
“In Verse 32, Dattatreya’s references include the visualization practices in Vajrayana Buddhism and their further adoption of “mudras” (i.e. “hand postures”) in meditation practices. He is also confronting the perceived necessity of “initiation”, seen as absolutely necessary in the Kashmir Shaivism and Buddhist tantric systems.
In Verse 33, Dattatreya references two categories of the means for practice in Kashmir Shaivism and also the importance of shakti energy in the practices of that tradition. When he references the sphere image, he is noting the Dzogchen usage of that imagery.
In Verse 35, there are references to the non-necessity of pranayama practices, likewise for the sky-gazing and postures of Dzogchen, and further no need to deal with the nadis (i.e. the nerve currents mentioned).”
[Reference Note: Translation of all 8 chapters of the Avadhuta Gita can be read here: http://hinduonline.co/DigitalLibrary/SmallBooks/AvadhootaGitaEng.pdf ]
Two medieval texts were translated into English in the early to mid 20th Century as a result of the encouragement of the 20th Century Sage Ramana Maharishi. They grant a sharper picture of the actual nature of “Realization” of the essential nature of all that exists. Also, the practice processes are laid out, with explanations clarifying the levels and depths of Realization.
Both texts were translated into English from Tamil.
Only 122 of 1924 verses from the many chapters of The Ribhu Gita were translated and organized under the title The Essence of the Ribhu Gita. It describes clearly what exactly entails Realization and how that represents a potential service for other beings.
Realization is of “Sat-Chit-Ananda”, the “Ground” and essential nature of all existing beings. (AKA, the “Self”)
Sat = Being, the bare feeling of Being.
Chit = Consciousness, thought free wakefulness.
Ananda = Bliss, all energetic happenings (i.e. everything manifesting).
Remaining alertly aware and thought-free, with a still mind devoid of differentiation of Self and non-Self even while being engaged in the activities of worldly life, is called the state of Sahaja-Nirvakalpa-Samadhi (the natural state of abidance in the Self when all differentiation has ceased). This is called Akhandakara vritti, the “I” of infinite perfection as contrasted with the “I am the body” notion of those who have not realized the Self. (Verse 30 of the Essence of the Ribhu Gita is from Chapter 18, verse 40 of the larger text.)
Abidance in Sahaja Samadhi is the hallmark of a Jivan Mukta [my note: a liberated being due to Realization]. With progressive development towards this state, an intensity of blissful peace is attained, leading on to the four successive stages of perfection in samadhi. Nothing short of this Sahara Samadhi will be of any avail i destroying the fearsome cycle of births and deaths.
(Chapter 18, verse 41)
That realized person who abides in the Brahman-Self, and has lost all feelings of differentiation of self and non-self, is the Jnani or Mukta Purusha. Such a Jnani is rare to find even by searching among millions of people. If one has the lucky opportunity of getting his dracaena (personal view and contact) one attains purification from all his sins, and what is more, such a person’s ego gets liquidated at once.
(Chapter 19, verse 10)
Darshan of the matured Jnani constitutes the acme of purification of baths taken insacred waters, divine worship, mantra-japa, spiritual austerities, charitable acts and devotional worship of Lord Shiva himself. To find and to gain access to the sacred presence of such a Jnani is the luckiest of opportunities that one could ever obtain in this world.
(Chapter 19, verse 11)
Worshipful service rendered unto such a Jnani-Sat-Guru quickens one’s spiritual wisdom to attain the bliss of jivan mukti. If continued further, it bestows on the disciple even the status of videha mukti. Therefore, if one is keen on being released from bondage into the freedom of mukti, the one infallible means of achieving that aim is the loving and worshipful service of the Jnani-Sat-Guru.
(Chapter 19, verse 13)
Firmly established in the Self, undisturbed by the least ripple of thought, as still as an idol of stone or wood, dissolved completely in Brahman-Self, even as water is in milk, with awareness devoid of all impurities of thought and drowsiness, standing clear as the pure sky, the grandeur of the Jnani’s nishta (firm stance in the Self) defies thought and expression.
(Chapter 19, verse 21)”
And, some verses on the depths of the realized and liberated condition:
The Jivan Mukta is a person liberated during his lifetime, who continues to have consciousness of the body and the world (as Brahman) along with his firm abidance in his Shiva-Self. He ever abides in the blissful peace of Sat-Chit-Ananda. He is poised rock-firm in the conviction that he is not the body, and that his Being is the sole existence, the sole alert-awareness-bliss of Shiva-Self Supreme.
(Chapter 18, verse 1)
The Jivan Mukta has his consciousness completely dissolved beyond recognition in his Brahman-Self. Eternally alone in his Self, he is ever lost in the enjoyment of the bliss of his Brahman-Self.
(Chapter 8, verse 25)
The Videha Mukta is free from the least trace of thought; he abides all alone in his effulgent pure-Awareness-Self in intense unbroken bliss, totally oblivious of limited forms, in a state of Maha-Mounam (stillness of body, speech and mind). (Chapter 9, verse 1)
He is the pure embodiment of Sat-Chit-Ananda, all pervasive as ether, infinite as the sky, all alert with Awareness, spontaneously abiding as the perfect Brahman-Self in a state of still, unbroken, peaceful bliss.
(Chapter 9, verse 15)
There is not an atom apart from the Self, which is the integral undifferentiated perfection of whole Being. Soul, world and Creator are inseparable from the Self. The reality of these is the reality of the Self only.
(Chapter 10, verse 34)”
[Reference Note: For the translation of 122 verses from the Ribhu Gita: http:// bhagavan-ramana.org/essenceofribhugita.html ]
The second Ramana-encouraged translation was a larger project, involving 250 pages of 22 Chapters. The late medieval period text known as the Tripura Rahasya was written by an unknown Goddess-Shakti devotee. (The previous text discussed, the Ribhu Gita, is clearly penned by a Shaivite non dualist.)
This is a book organized as an anthology of instructive stories told by the iconic figure Dattatreya to his disciple Parasurama. Dattatreya had already sent Parasurama out to practice devotional focus on the Goddess-Shakti, which he does for 12 years in isolation. While these practices led to blissful states of absorption, they didn’t last. So, unsettled with questions, Parasurama returns to the company of his Guru, Dattatreya, with further questions.
For his instruction, Dattatreya uses a variety of persons and settings as cast and staging. One of the stages includes a limitless Universe created inside a hill by the powers of the son of a Yogi-Sage! So, dialogues between Dattatreya and Parasurama are interspersed with the other figures in other settings of Dattatreya’s stories sharing important teachings.
With these verses from Chapter 19, Dattatreya makes some key points regarding practice methods, levels of development, and the actual effortlessly present (but obscured) condition of awakened wisdom:
“6. I shall now tell you the secret of it all. There is no difference in the methods, nor does jnana differ in fact.
7. The fruits differ according to the grades of accomplishment. The same extends through several births and on its completion, jnana easily unfolds itself.
8. The degree of efforts is according to the stage of incompleteness brought over from past births. However, jnana is eternal and no effort is really needed.
9. Because it is already there and needs no accomplish- ment, jnana is pure intelligence, the same as consciousness which is ever self-radiant.
10-13. What kind of effort can avail to disclose the eternally self-resplendent consciousness? Being coated with a thick crust of infinite vasanas (dispositions), it is not easily perceived. The encrustation must first be soaked in the running steam of mind control and carefully scraped off with the sharp chisel of investigation. Then one must turn the closed urn of crystal quartz — namely, the mind cleaned in the aforesaid manner — on the grinding wheel of alertness and finally open the lid with the lever of discrimination….Thus you see, Rama, that all efforts are to be directed to cleaning up the mental impressions of predispositions.”
Later on in this chapter, Dattatreya addresses the varying degrees of capacity for realization. For example, noting in verses 67 and 68 that the “glimpse of jnana (non- dual wisdom/realization) gained by one whose mind is crowded with dense vasanas [binding patterns of thought, action, and feeling] accumulated, does not suffice to override one’s deep-rooted ignorance.” On the other hand, in the immediately preceding verses, he notes there are those who are not so burdened by deeply seeded and fixed ways of feeling, acting, etc and thus “gains supreme results” with very little effort.
Dattatreya then noted that “thus there are seen to be different classes of Sages”. Or, that “there are apparent differences in the characteristics of Jnanis, caused by the aspects and the attitudes of the intellect and the varieties in activities”.
Nevertheless, he adds “that this does not mean that jnana admits of variety. These attitudes depend on their vasanas [i.e. dispositions and tendencies] and environments. Their jnana is pure and uncontaminated by what they do…”
Dattatreya goes on to describe to Parasurama various Sages and their unique characteristics and ways, and he includes himself by noting his way of wandering nude in the forest. He also describes inactive ascetics living in isolation, emotionally expressive devotional types, those looking and acting like village idiots, respected scholars, rulers, and more!
The unknown author, using the “voice” of Dattatreya here, also asserts that there are three classes of Realized Sages (i.e. the jnanis): upper, middle, and lower classes.
The higher class Sage is someone who had few vasanas to begin with and thus need little in the way of instruction. They also do not need the company of a realized Guru (for “darshan” and the attractive power in that).
In addition, these “higher” class “Sages with subtle and clean intellect have not considered it worthwhile to eradicate their desire by forcing other thoughts to take their place, because desires do not obstruct realization. Therefore their desires continue to manifest even after realization, as before.” So, not being tainted by such vasanas they are considered to be “emancipated and diverse minded” and also “reputed to be the best class of janis”.
Middle class Sages require a lot of discipline and effort, thus making “such a Sage’s activities…small because he is entirely engrossed in his efforts for Realization”.
And, verses 92-94 in Chapter 19 explain that the “last class and the least among the Sages are those whose practice and discipline are not perfect enough to destroy mental predispositions. Their minds are still active and the Sages are said to be associated with their minds….[But] they will be emancipated after death”.
The Tripura Rahasya takes the reader through the whole process, first beginning with a person’s initial impulse to reorient their lives to seek liberation from ways they have begun to feel are unnecessarily crafting a life of suffering. Oftentimes, devotion to God is the first impulse to awaken when reaching that point of sensitivity.
The range of practices (i.e. sadhana or spiritual practice) presented step by step in the Tripura Rahasya book are still imparted in formal settings espousing Advaita Vedanta, in the “Maths” or monastic and educational and practice centers originally established by Shankara and others.
[Reference Note: For the translation of 122 verses from the Ribhu Gita: http:// bhagavan-ramana.org/essenceofribhugita.html and translation of Tripura Rahasya available at a selfdefinition.org address]