The Vedanta of Shri Shankara is not rationalism like the philosophy of Descartes or Spinoza but it is a spiritual ontological philosophy which has no peer in Western philosophy. The way to be established mentally in the Truth of the holy philosophy is to reason deeply about the spiritual Truth obtained from an Acharya; but eventually this deeper intellectual knowledge is to be converted into experience through the process called Niddhidhyasana or contemplation. By reading over and over again with faith and concentrated attention the holy Shrutis one understands their meaning. By daily reflection and meditation this meaning takes root in the intellect and by ceaseless contemplation the subject-matter of the holy Shruti becomes an experience. The spiritual experience of the nature of Self as Sat-Chit-Ananda is an experience of the Self and not of the mind. As Self or Atman is the support of all phases of experience, it follows that the experience of Self does not depend on any other thing.
The experience of Self is obtained through the Self in the Self, above the mind and the intellect. It is not subject to the realm of cause and effect nor is this experience the result of any particular process. The product of high ethical living is converted in the end into the light of Self. The mind acquires the heat, so to say, through the ethical process of devotion and self-sacrifice, but the light of spiritual experience is above all. Mere Shravana and Manana cannot give rise to the experience of Self in the Self itself. Fire is not a modification of heat but it is the culmination of heat. The same applies to the spiritual experience. The new light is created in the inner being of man, which converts the whole conception of Self into the infinity of Sat-Chit-Ananda.
It may be noted that the most holy Acharya holds that the spiritual cognition is not the direct result of any particular method or discipline. The Self is ever-achieved, but to make the ever-achieved a realised experience we need methods of meditation and discipline which slowly remove the covering of nescience. As long as a fire is not kindled, we rub pieces of wood together, but when the fire is kindled, the process is given up. The experience of the holy sages, expressed in the words of the Shruti, is not the truth direct but the body of the Truth, It is essential to have a Diksha (initiation) from a competent and traditional Teacher in order to understand the real meaning of Shruti.
Contemplation (Niddhidhyasana) is the central point of our consciousness in which the empirical consciousness is fully absorbed, and then follows the state called Shanti. It is in the state of Shanti that we experience reflections of the great and infinite bliss. Niddhidhyasana is a mode by which the intellectual knowledge of the identity of Jiva and Brahman is turned into direct experience. Without the impressions gathered through a strict ethical discipline, as indicated in the Bhagavad Gita and elsewhere, our contemplation is not complete, Shri Sureshvara quotes the Shruti: “He who has not given up the wicked tendencies and conduct, he can never attain to the spiritual Truth” – (Katha Upanishad 1.2.24.) This is the keynote of the life of contemplation according to the most holy Acharya and his great disciples.
Index for this series of essays