The Shruti says: “Nayam Atma pravachanena labhyo, na medhaya, na bahuna shrutena. This Atman cannot be achieved by hearing nor by talking much about it, nor by exercise of the intellect.” (“Katha Upanishad” 1.2.23. “Mundaka Upanishad” 3.2.3.) Yet we are asked to do shravana and it appears like a contradiction that in one place the Shruti says the Atman cannot be achieved by hearing much, and on the other shravana, manana and nididhyasana are recommended. There is no contradiction. Shravana is of two kinds: one is the shravana from the unenlightened, or listening to the writings of the unenlightened in the form of their opinions. The other is the shravana or listening to the writings of the enlightened. In one case the shravana is the end in itself, in the other case the shravana is the means to something higher, and that is mananafollowed by nididhyasana. In this way the contradiction is resolved.
According to the holy Acharya, shravana is to be done when the mind is tranquil and disciplined. Mind becomes receptive and tranquil when we come with faith. We should come to the holy shravana in the same frame of mind as an old patient afflicted with a complex of ailments approaches a doctor whose skill and whose doubt. The truth enters through the ears and the soul is impregnated by that truth. The subtlest form of matter is ether; of all the elements it is the most subtle. Gases like hydrogen are subtle but they move; they come and go. Ether is always present. Therefore we speak qualitatively – ether is nearer to Brahman than any other element. Shravana is done through ether. It is the sound which conveys the truth from the physical ether, space, into the mental ether of chitta. But conformity to the discipline and approach in the right spirit are essential.
Manana is revolving the holy truth in the mind so that the mind may be soaked in its validity. The reasoning to destroy the truth, that is to say the destructive criticism of the truth, is not for the disciples. You cannot destroy the sun under the light of which everything is seen. The holy truth is the sun of suns, light of light; how can it be demolished by the puny intellect? Charvaka and the dualists have raised innumerable objections in their efforts to demolish the holy truth ” I am Brahman”; “Verily all is Brahman” ; “There is only one Sacchidananda” , and by one flourish of the pen of Shri Bhagavadpada their millions of objections are reduced to nothingness. Therefore it is not traditional to do manana with the attitude “Well, I have heard ‘Tat tvam asi’ and ‘Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma’; is it valid or not? Science does not seem to confirm it. How can plurality come out of unity? It is impossible.” And then trying to reason to demolish these statements. It is not for the disciple. No. The disciple is to use reasoning to support the truth. Shri Shankara says: “Apply tarka, or reasoning to establish the truth because otherwise you are wasting your time.” What Ramanuja, Madhva, Nimbarka, Rama Mishra and others have not been able even to touch, how can our puny little intellects pretend to destroy it by reason? It is an important point.
Nididhyasana is the frame of mind in which tranquillity rules and the truth heard and reflected upon forms the basis of perpetual meditation. Not meditation for a little time. Sididhyasana becomes the basis. It is like a platform on which stands the figure of clay, a cross of wood, a picture of light. Meditation is like that stand, the frame of the mind, and it is in this frame of mind that shravana is done, manana is done, and nididhyasana is done.
Ajnana is darkness, and it is removed by the light of knowledge, by no other means. And the light of knowledge is evoked by shravana, manana and nididhyasana. Shravana, manana and nididhyasana become easy and effective when the ego is subdued. It is the subjection of the ego, which means the conquest of desire. It is the sense of individuality which creates a want in the cosmic Consciousness and this want created by the sense of individuality, ahankara, is expressed in the form of desires (not in the form of efforts to know the truth, which is not called a desire).