Sri Sankara’s Path to Salvation
A Note By Sri Ramana Maharshi
Talks with Ramana Maharshi
Talk 349 – 23rd January, 1937
(In the current issue of The Vision is published the following note, being the translation by Mr. S. Krishna, of Sri Ramana Maharshi’s preface to his translation of Sri Sankara’s Viveka Chudamani or “Crown-gem of Discrimination”).
Sri Ramana Maharshi’s Preface
Every being in the world yearns to be always happy, free from the taint of sorrow; and desires to get rid of bodily ailments which are not of his true nature. Further, everyone cherishes the greatest love for himself: and this love is not possible in the absence of happiness. In deep sleep, though devoid of everything, one has the experience of being happy. Yet, due to the ignorance of the real nature of one’s own being, which is happiness itself, people ounder in the vast ocean of material existence forsaking the right path that leads to happiness and act under the mistaken belief that the way to be happy consists in obtaining the pleasures of this and the other world.
A SAFE GUIDE:
But alas, that happiness which has not the taint of sorrow is not realised. It is precisely for the purpose of pointing out the straight path to happiness that God Siva took on the guise of Sri Sankaracharya, wrote the commentaries on the Triune Institutes (Prasthana Traya) of the Vedanta, which extol the excellence of this bliss; and demonstrated it by his own example in life. These commentaries, however, are of little use to those ardent seekers who are intent upon realising the bliss of absolution, but have not the scholarship for studying them.
It is for such as these that Sri Sankara revealed the essence of the commentaries in this short treatise, “The Crown-gem of Discrimination”, explaining in detail the points that have to be grasped by those who seek absolution, and thereby directing them to the true and straight path.
LEARNING WON’T DO:
Sri Sankara opens the theme by observing that it is hard indeed to attain human birth, and one should (having attained it) strive for the realisation of the bliss of liberation, which is verily the nature of one’s being. By jnana or Knowledge alone is this bliss realised, and jnana is achieved only through vichara or steady enquiry. In order to know this method of enquiry, says Sri Sankara, one should seek the favour of a Guru, and proceeds to describe the qualities of the Guru and his sishya and how the latter should approach and serve his master. He further emphasises that in order to realise the bliss of liberation one’s own individual effort is an essential factor. Mere book-learning never yields this bliss which can be realised only through enquiry or vichara, which consists of sravana or devoted attention to the precepts of the Guru, manana or deep contemplation and Nididhyasana or the cultivation of steady poise in the Self.
THE THREE PATHS:
The three bodies – physical, subtle and causal – are non-self and are unreal. The Self, or ‘I’, is quite different from them. It is due to ignorance that the sense of the Self or the ‘I’ notion is foisted on that which is not Self, and this indeed is bondage. Since from ignorance arises bondage, from Knowledge ensues liberation. To know this from the Guru is sravana.
To reject the three bodies consisting of the ve sheaths (physical, vital, mental, gnostic and blissful) as not ‘I’ and to extract through subtle enquiry of “Who am I?” – even as the central blade of grass is delicately drawn out from its whorl – that which is different from all the three bodies and is existent as one and universal in the heart as Aham or ‘I’ and denoted by the words Tvam (in the Scriptural dictum – ‘Tat-tvam-asi’ – That thou art). This process of subtle enquiry is manana or deep contemplation.
The world of name and form is but an adjunct of Sat or Brahman, and being not different from it is rejected as such and is af rmed as nothing else but Brahman. The instruction by the Guru to the disciple of the Mahavakya, Tat-tvam-asi, which declares the identity of the Self and the Supreme, is upadesa. The disciple is then enjoined to remain in the beatitude of Aham-Brahman – ‘I’ the Absolute. Nevertheless the old tendencies of the mind sprout up thick and strong and form an obstruction (to that state of beatitude). These tendencies are threefold and egoism, which is their root, ourishes in the externalised and differentiating consciousness caused by the forces of vikshepa or dissipation (due to rajas) and avarana or envelopment (due to tamas).
CHURNING THE MIND:
To install the mind firmly in the heart until these forces are destroyed and to awaken with unswerving, ceaseless vigilance the true and cognate tendency which is characteristic of the Atman and is expressed by the dicta, Aham Brahmasmi (I am Brahman), and Brahmaivaham (Brahman alone am I) is termed nididhyasana or atmanusandhana, i.e., constancy in the Self. This is otherwise called Bhakti, Yoga and Dhyana.
Atmanusandhana has been likened to churning the curd to draw forth butter, the mind being compared to the churning rod, the heart to the curd and the practice of constancy in the Self to the process of churning. Just as by churning the curd butter is extracted and by friction re is kindled, even so, by unswerving vigilant constancy in the Self, ceaseless like the unbroken lamentary ow of oil, is generated the natural or changeless trance or nirvikalpa samadhi, which readily and spontaneously yields that direct, immediate, unobstructed and universal perception of Brahman, which is at once Knowledge and Experience and which transcends time and space.
This is Self-Realization; and thereby is cut asunder the hridaya-granthi or the Knot of the Heart. The false delusions of ignorance, the vicious and age-long tendencies of the mind, which constitute this knot, are destroyed. All doubts are dispelled and the bondage of Karma is severed.
Thus has Sri Sankara described, in this “Crown-gem of Discrimination,” samadhi or trance transcendent, which is the limitless bliss of liberation, beyond doubt and duality, and has at the same time indicated the means for its attainments. To realise this state of freedom from duality is the summum bonum of life: and he alone that has won it is a jivanmukta (the liberated one while yet alive), and not he who has merely a theoretical understanding of what constitutes purushartha or the desired end and aim of human endeavour.
Thus defining a jivanmukta, he is declared to be free from the bonds of threefold Karmas (sanchita, agami and prarabdha). The disciple who has reached this stage then relates his personal experience. The liberated one is free indeed to act as he pleases, and when he leaves the mortal frame, attains absolution, and returns not to this “birth which is death”.
Sri Sankara thus describes Realization that connotes liberation as twofold, i.e., jivanmukti and videha mukti referred to above. Moreover, in this short treatise, written in the form of a dialogue between a Guru and his disciple, he has considered many relevant topics.