Jnana Nistha Knowledge-Stance

Knowledge-Stance: Jñāna-Niṣṭhā Following on Right Knowledge of the identity of the true Self and Brahman, Śaṅkara presents two more means to release, though they are really stages in clarity of Knowledge: (1) saṃnyāsa or casting away action, (2) what he calls jñāna-niṣṭhā, or Standing on Knowledge. Strictly speaking, they are both corollaries, natural results, of Right Knowledge; but he often treats them separately. Saṃnyāsa has been discussed already; it is the inner living realization that the Self does not act. In the case of those who have already fulfilled their role, it is reflected outwardly in withdrawal from active life; for others, sattvic action of the body-mind complex (not the Self), continues as long as life lasts. Now look at what Śaṅkara says about jñāna-niṣṭhā. Jñāna means knowledge: it comes from jñā, a remote relative of the English ‘know’. Nisthā comes from a verb sthā, to stand firmly. The sense …

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Freedom is not the same as the idea of freedom

Freedom The Gītā has presented the supreme Self as unthinkable, but directly experienced. It has been hinted at as the end of all grief, fear, and delusion, and positively as the bliss of Brahman. When the word Brahman, absolute Reality, first comes in the Gītā, Śaṅkara defines it by three Upanisadic texts, one of which is: ‘Brahman is consciousness-bliss.’ As Śaṅkara points out, reality cannot be accurately defined in words which are based on illusion. The most they can do is to indicate the direction of search. The search is not for something altogether unknown. If anyone can sit still for a time, throw away desires and fears, and look steadily at the mind itself and then beyond the mind, he will find there is something in him that wants to be a god. Freedom is not the same as the idea of freedom. Take the case of people who …

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The Self shines in its own glory

Free-in-Life Release, liberation, freedom, are English words corresponding to the Sanskrit moksa. It means that the Self, which had been apparently confined in restrictions of a particular body-mind, shines in its own glory, the majesty of Brahman. The seeming individual reaches the absolute freedom called moksa by the Path of Knowledge. As we have seen, the Knowledge when it first rises may be disturbed by memories of past associations, so vivid that they seem real. They are dissolved by jñāna-niṣṭhā, throwing away such illusions. When they have gone, the Knowledge is called by Śaṅkara ‘mature’, namely free from associations. Then Self remains, standing forth in its true nature, Brahman free from all associations. Brahman, the Self, also manifests from time to time his creative power, projecting divine illusion. He enters the illusion as individual selves, accepting limitations by a conscious suspension of power and knowledge, and then struggles out of …

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Adhyatma Yoga is based on transcendental experience

The Experimental Basis of Adhyatma Yoga XIII.24 By meditation, some see the Self in the self by the self. VI.27 Supreme bliss comes to the yogin who is pure, passion laid to rest, his mind stilled; he becomes Brahman. The Gītā is a textbook of yoga (a word which has also the sense of ‘method’ and ‘addition’). It is not an intellectual or religious analysis ending up in blind belief or disbelief. The ancient Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad of at least 600 BC declared: ‘To this day whoever thus knows It as “I am Brahman” becomes universal.’ Śaṅkara, over a thousand years later, commented: ‘Some might think that they were gods in those days with wonderful powers, whereas the weak mortals of today could never do it. But that is not so. Brahman is the Self of all beings, and their apparent differences in power are illusory.’ Over a thousand years later …

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Mistakes are not forward steps

A pupil who lived rather carelessly remarked: ‘Mistakes are a necessary part of the path of training. If you read the biographies of even the greatest, they all say that they made many mistakes. Some of them say that mistakes are necessary – one learns from them. So I don’t worry about my own conduct: let the mistakes come, I think, let ’em all come. I’ll go through them and come out the other side. It is all part of the path.’ This was put to a senior pupil, a business woman, for her opinion. She remarked: ‘You need not tell him I said this, but I don’t think our teacher would rate the idea very high in terms of clear thinking. It’s easy to get woolly about spiritual things. I remember when I learnt to type. It was in a class. Of course we made mistakes, but the teacher …

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What’s the use of trying?

Some students discourage themselves by looking at themselves each day. After trying hard for a session, they feel that as there has been no result they have failed. Next day they try again, and again they fail. Gradually this builds up into a conviction of continuous failure, and they begin to think: ‘Oh, what’s the use of trying?’ For such occasions there is an ancient Indian example, that of the well-digger. The Indian tradition was that beneath the desert there is water, however deeply hidden. (This has recently been confirmed in the case of the vast Rajasthan desert in north-west India, beneath which a legendary river was supposed to flow. It has been established that the river is actually there, though deep underground.) The maxim of the well-digger is this. Each day when he digs but finds no water, he does not think: ‘I have failed.’ Next day he digs …

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Brahmin, warrior, businessman, and server

The Four Vocations IV: 13 The four-class system was created by Me In accordance with distinctions of guṇa-s and results-of- actions (karma). XVIII.41–4 The actions of Brahmins, of warriors, of businessmen, and of those who do service, Are distinguished according to the guṇa-s that come up out of their inborn nature. Calm, self-control, austerity (tapas), purity, patience and uprightness, Knowledge theoretical and practical, faith – are the nature- born behaviour of the Brahmin. Heroism, majesty, firmness, resourcefulness, not yielding in fight, Generosity, dignity – are the nature-born behaviour of the warrior. Farming and trade are the nature-born behaviour of businessmen; Service is the nature-born vocation of those who are drawn to it. The Laws of Manu lay down general rules that a Brahmin, for instance, should be the son or daughter of two Brahmin parents. However this represents a hardening into a fixed social rule of what is merely a …

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Yoga action begins with following traditional instructions

Yogic action begins with following the traditional instructions on life, but it cannot remain a question of obedience, sometimes cheerful and sometimes reluctant. There might be no time to think, ‘What ought I to do?’ If yoga has been practised faithfully, habits of right action are set up which cover most cases. But the time comes when things are not clear: perhaps duties conflict, or cause suffering to innocent people. The yoga practices of meditation lay down luminous, semi-transparent saṃskāra-impressions at the root of the mind. At first these are mostly just good thinking-patterns and good action-pattems, which reproduce what has been contemplated on. But as the translucent areas become wider, shafts of light begin to shine through them. Then there are inspirations which have nothing to do with limitation. Suppose it is necessary to take a considerable risk for a good cause. The yogin’s first feeling may be to …

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Free from all restrictions

III.33 People act in conformity with their own nature – even the wise man; Beings follow their nature: what can forcible restraint avail? ‘It’s only human nature’ is an excuse often made. It rests on the unspoken assumption that human nature is unchangeable – an eternally boiling spring of desire, anger and other passions, which can be held down for a time, but must then burst out with redoubled force, perhaps in concealed form. The Gītā analysis is quite different. Human nature is the latent deposit of dynamic seeds laid down previously; they include impulses to balance, peace and goodwill to all. If these last are encouraged, the seed-bed changes, and the impulses from it become lucid, well directed and calm. At the deepest level of all, approachable through yoga practice, there is a drive to be free from all restrictions. On the superficial levels, the restrictions are most immediately …

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The Bhagavad Gita is a teaching for crisis

The Bhagavad Gītā is a teaching for crisis. In many ways it is quite different from the situations in the Upanisads, where a seeker after truth attends on a teacher. The Upanisadic procedure is however described in a group of Gītā verses beginning with IV.34, in the context of Knowledge: Go to those who have knowledge and have realized it directly. Learn by bowing down, by questioning, and by being attentive; They will teach you Knowledge. The word translated ‘being attentive’ is literally ‘service’, but Śaṅkara here and elsewhere explains it as basically ‘wanting to hear’. It is not simply slavish obedience for its own sake. At the beginning of the Gītā, Arjuna is not yet a disciple in these terms. He is not seeking truth: he does ask, but not about bondage and spiritual freedom, only about what he should do in this particular crisis. He does not bow …

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The idea of reincarnation contains hints at wider truths

II.22 As the wearer casts off worn-out clothes and puts on himself others which are new, Even so, casting off worn-out bodies, the body-wearer passes on to new ones. This great verse on reincarnation comes at the beginning of the teachings, and it refers to the great Self which takes on itself the illusion of the succession of bodies. A master of meditation remarked that the idea of reincarnation contains hints at wider truths than the bare idea of things wearing out and being replaced, which to many older people has a depressing ring. They find their bodies less and less reliable, and less competent to fulfil most of the purposes of life as they have understood them. He said: ‘Take the case of furniture. If a chair is reasonably well made, at the beginning it sparkles with the fresh varnish laid evenly all over it. It has an unyielding …

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Another causality underlying the causality of the world

Yoga sees another causality underlying the causality of the world. A stage play has its own causal sequence: within the play, daggers kill, kings are honoured, the mother loves a baby. But there is a deeper causal sequence which is quite different: the daggers do not kill though the stabbed man falls, the king is a very minor role, the baby over which the mother croons is a doll. All the events, though they seem determined by the stage situation, are in fact free choices by the cast. They are careful to preserve the play situation. They do not lean against a pillar in the palace; if someone did, a ripple would go across the marble of the painted scenery. A keen eye can in fact see many of the inconsistencies in the stage setting and action of the play, though children are often completely deceived. In something of the …

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Rama Tirtha after his God-realization

A great mahātma, Rama Tirtha, after his God-realization found he could no longer continue a home life in society, as Professor of Mathematics at Lahore University. He went to live at great heights in the Himalayas, occasionally coming down to give talks and publish articles. On one such occasion his former teacher sent a young brahmacari to look after him. One day the mahātma gave a four-hour long discourse to an audience of thousands; he danced on the sands of the Ganges, and many of the audience saw a god there dancing. Afterwards he went back with the brahmacari to the small room where he was staying. The mahātma’s lack of interest in food and his solitary life in the mountains had upset his digestive system, and he sometimes suffered from attacks of colic. When the spasms came on, his body twisted and turned. The disciple watched with horror, and …

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Sankara’s Introduction to the Bhagavad Gita

Except where otherwise stated, the reference to a Gītā verse is in fact to Śaṅkara’s commentary on that verse. There are many cases where Śaṅkara comments on a verse from a distance; in other words, in his commentary to another verse, not necessarily nearby, or previous. For instance, an important anticipatory comment to VII.16–18 appears already under IV.11. Translation of Śaṅkara’s Introduction to the Gītā Nārāyaṇa is beyond the Unmanifest; From the Unmanifest the cosmic Egg comes to be. And within the Egg are the cosmic regions, And the earth of seven continents. Having thus projected the world (jagat), to stabilize it the Lord first projected Marīci and others as lords of creation, and directed them to what the Veda calls the Right Course (dharma) of Engagement-in-action. Then he brought forth others like Sanaka and Sanandana, and directed them to the Right Course of Cessation-from-action, consisting of Knowledge (jñāna) and …

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Jnana Yoga Path for Sankhyas

Jñāna-Yoga Path for Sāṅkhya-s (=Knowers) from Śaṅkara Gītā Commentary II.21 The Knower (jñānin) has nothing to do with action. (Question) What then has he to do? (Answer) This is answered in III.3: ‘The Sāṅkhya-s should resort to jñāna-yoga.’ For the Knower and seeker of Liberation, who sees that the Self is actionless, there is qualification for renunciation-of-all-action alone (avikriyātma-darśino viduṣo mumukṣo ca sarva-karma- saṃnyāse eva adhikāra). II.55 The Knower (vidvat), having renounced, makes efforts in jñāna-niṣṭhā. The above quotations illustrate the path of Knowledge-yoga (jñāna-yoga). It begins with the rise of Knowledge, which distinguishes the Sāṅkhya. The path consists of (1) renunciation-of-action (saṃnyāsa): this renunciation is not necessarily of things, but is characterized as freedom from the notion ‘I do’; (2) establishment-in-Knowledge (jñāna-niṣṭhā), sustained meditations to throw off disturbances, by memory-illusions, of the naturally continuing current of Knowledge. When jñāna-niṣṭhā reaches its end (avasāna) in being-Brahman (anubhava), it is Freedom …

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Nistha doctrine of liberation

Niṣṭha Śaṅkara’s doctrine of liberation in the Gītā is set out briefly in his introduction: the Highest good … is from the Course (dharma) of Estab- lishment-in-Knowledge-of-Self (ātma-jñāna-niṣṭhā), preceded by completely casting off all action (sarva-karma-saṃnyāsa). He presents it at length at the end, in the commentary to XVIII.50, 54, and 55, in the following extracts. XVIII.50 That supreme establishment-in-Knowledge (niṣṭhā jñānasya yā parā niṣṭhā) is its final resting-place (pary-avasāna), its culmination (pari-samāpti) That is the supreme culmination of Knowledge of Brahman (brahma-jñānasya yā parā parisamāpti). XVIII. 54 (extract) Such a man of jñāna-niṣṭhā (establishment-in-Knowledge), My devotee (bhakta) worshipping Me the supreme Lord, has attained the fourth, the highest, devotion (bhakti), that which has Knowledge. As it was said (VII.18) The fourth class (the class of Knowers) worship Me. So by that bhakti of Knowledge – XVIII. 55 (extract) By devotion he knows Me, how great and who I am …

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Paripaka is maturing or ripening

Paripāka (Maturing, Ripening) Paripāka, having the sense of completion by maturing or ripening, is a feature of Śaṅkara’s Gītā presentation. The meaning is that similar, intense saṃskāra-s repeatedly laid down, finally come to dominate the causal or unmanifest basis of the mind. The word ‘maturing’ implies some passage of time, though it may be very short. For instance, he says that the Sānkhya-buddhi or knowledge-mind comes about when the karma-yoga-buddhi or action-yoga-mind attains maturity: 11.49 Have recourse to the karma-yoga buddhi, or to the Sānkhya buddhi which is bom when that is mature (tat-paripāka-jāyām). The Sānkhya-buddhi is only the rise of Knowledge. The Knowledge itself has to mature: VII.19 The Knower who has attained mature Knowledge (prāpta-paripāka-jñānam). Both detachment and meditation have also a process of maturing: XVIII.37 The happiness born of the maturing of Knowledge, detachment, meditation and samādhi… is of sattva (jñāna-vairāgya-dhyāna-samādhi-paripāka-jam sukham … sāttvikam). Another account of …

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Avasana, Destination, Resting-Place

Avasāna (Destination, Resting-Place) Śaṅkara often uses it to mean the truth into which the illusory appearance is finally resolved. VIII.3, is a reply to questions by Arjuna, one of which is ‘what is adhy-ātma?’ The term has been used in III.30, where Arjuna is told to perform actions ‘with mind on the self’ (adhyātma-cetasā). At that time he does not know of the Self-as-Brahman, and Śaṅkara there interprets it as the individual self, to be thought of as a servant. Here the Lord explains the term adhyātma as sva-bhāva, individual selfhood, to be further mentioned in XVII.2. But Śaṅkara adds: That self which, overseeing a body, sets out as its inner self, and truly comes to rest (avasāna) as the highest Brahman, is the svabhāva selfhood which is to be called adhy-ātman Selfhood. (Ātmānam deham adhirkṛtya pratyag-ātmatayā pravṛttam paramārtha-Brahmāvasānam vastu svabhāva adhyātmam ucyate). In IX.10 he says: ‘I am in …

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Anubhava in accordance with what truly is

In the Gītā commentary this means roughly being (bhava) in-accord- ance-with (anu) what truly is. The sense comes out clearly in III.41 and IX.1, where the Gītā has the pair jñāna-vijñāna. (This is translated by Edgerton as theoretical and practical knowledge.) In this pairing, jñāna is taken by Śaṅkara not in the usual way as Right Vision (samyag- darsana), but as theoretical ideas (avabodha) of the Self and so on as taught by scripture and the teacher. Vijñāna in contrast is practical realization of the ideas – anubhava. Similarly in IX. 1 vijñāna as anubhava is distinguished from jñāna. But he also treats the pair together as samyagdarsana, ‘the direct means to mokṣa. The three terms – paripāka, avasāna, anubhava – came together (each twice) in XVIII.55. They also appear under XVIII.36 and 37. The Gītā and Śaṅkara both treat the teaching-point here as most important: Kṛṣṇa introduces it with …

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Karma Yoga is especially contrasted with the jnana yoga

The terms yoga and karma-yoga are occasionally used interchangeably by Śaṅkara, especially contrasted with the jñāna-yoga of Sāṅkhya. He defines Yoga in II.39. Yoga, the means to that (Knowledge), is: (1) first, distancing oneself (reading prahāna with Ānandagirl and not prahanana ‘killing’) from the pairs-of-opposites (dvandva); (2) undertaking actions as karma-yoga, namely as worship (ārādhana) of God; (3) samādhi-yoga. In IV.38, ‘purified by yoga’ is glossed as purified by karma-yoga and samādhi-yoga. The accompanying word mumukṣu presumably would cover dvandva-prahāna. In XII.12 and elsewhere, karma-yoga is used as yoga, to include other elements besides action: Yoga is said to be samādhi – concentration on the Lord (Īśvare cetah-samādhāna), and a performance for the Lord’s sake of actions, and so on. It rests on seeing difference between Self (ātman) and the Lord (ātmeṣvara bheda āsritya)…. It is not compatible with Right Vision (samyag-darśana-ananvita)…. It relies on an Īśvara apart. So jñāna-yoga, …

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Samyasa was to leave home and property and wander forth

To enter the order of saṃnyāsa was to leave home and property and wander forth, sustained by semi-automatic actions of body-mind like begging and lying down to sleep and so on. Śaṅkara cites three times in his Gītā commentary the Bṛhad. Up. III.5.1: ‘Having known (viditvā) that Self, they wander forth as mendicants.’ Śaṅkara, like the Gītā itself, is against physical renunciations while there is inner longing for objects: in his lead-in to Gītā III.6 he says: ‘For one who does not know the Self, it is not-right (asat) that he should not undertake his required duty.’ For the Self-knower (Sāṅkhya, jnānin, tattva-vid, samyag-darsin, etc.) on the other hand, voluntarily initiated actions will tend to drop away, with the desires that cause them. saṃnyāsa will tend to follow naturally upon Knowledge. Nevertheless Śaṅkara very frequently enjoins it as a necessary accessory to Knowledge: it then leads to Estab- lishment-in-Knowledge (jñāna-niṣṭhā) …

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Exceptions to Formal Samyasa

In Gītā III.20 and IV. 15 it is said that Janaka and other ancient worthies sought perfection through action alone. Śaṅkara, with his emphasis on Liberation (perfection) through Knowledge alone, has to meet objections based on these texts. Commenting on Gītā II.11, where the teachings begin, he says: Those of them who were Knowers of truth (tattva-vid) had sought their perfection by Knowledge alone and had now reached the stage of formal saṃnyāsa: but as Kṣatriya kings they would have been already involved in actions. So realizing ‘it is guṇa-s acting on guṇa-s’, they continued in action for the sake of the other people (loka-saṅgraha), to fulfil their past karmic involvement (prārabdhatvāt), though they were seeking perfection of Liberation through their Knowledge alone. Those of them who were not yet Knowers sought perfection through action for self-purification and (then) rise of Knowledge. Śaṅkara explains away the phrase ‘by action alone’ …

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