Well-Charted Road Map
the course of a talk with his devotees, Sri Ramakrishna disclosed
a profound secret: how to read a charted road map leading
to a unique spiritual goal. By that he made available to us
a ready reckoner for using the road map. In fact, many seemingly
simple utterances of his hold in their bosom stereoscopic
views of unintelligible technicalities of philosophies. Suppose
one speaks from the terrace of a ten-storied building to us
who are on the road below. The person on the terrace knows
what it is like to be on the terrace, what are the things
available there, how to reach there. We can even hear the
person giving a running commentary about the terrace, etc.
Sri Ramakrishna, and for that matter all realized souls, have
this immediate knowledge. But on our part, we, who are on
the ground, can only speculate about the lift or stairs leading
to the terrace and about things on the terrace. Therefore,
the words of such people who speak from their realization
are to be studied carefully with positive aspirations. Otherwise,
we may misconstrue their teachings and land in great trouble.
Sri Ramakrishna's statement is this: 'Having tied the non-dual
knowledge at the hem of your cloth, do whatever you like.'
At the same time, he has also said: 'An expert dancer makes
no false steps.'
phrase 'non-dual knowledge' used by Sri Ramakrishna in the
first sentence paves the way for three types of meanings:
A contrary understanding. There came a sadhu
to Dakshineswar when Sri Ramakrishna was there. He used to
stay at the Panchavati in the temple garden. After some time,
it came to Sri Ramakrishna's ears that people were not happy
with the character of the sadhu. Sri Ramakrishna would
hardly keep such matters a secret. One day the sadhu came
to meet him. Sri Ramakrishna immediately raised the topic
and said, 'Hello! I understand that you are a Vedantic sadhu;
but people say ill about you. Why is it so?' The sadhu
replied, 'According to Vedanta this world is an illusion.
So whatever you have heard against me is also an illusion.'
Shocked at this misinterpretation of the lofty ideal, Sri
Ramakrishna rebuked him severely saying, 'If this is what
your knowledge of Vedanta means, fie upon your non-dual knowledge.'
Obviously, such an unethical interpretation is not supported
by any knowledge, sacred or secular. But this happens in case
of all sublime teachings. People pretend to be holy, and sanctify
all immoral practices in the name of religion. We fall into
the trap of such 'sanctified shop-keeping' and do not find
a way out of it.
A misunderstanding. The scriptural statements speak about
a non-dual knowledge that can be had from the scriptures alone.
The real import of such teachings is to impart information
to the readers how to do or perform disciplines to remove
obstacles from the path of realization. But, after a study
of the scriptures we may feel that mere study itself is sufficient
to attain Brahma-jnana. As a result, we go on deceiving ourselves
till the last until we are frustrated about our deception.
An intellectual understanding of the scriptures is, of course,
necessary. It is called paroksha-jnana (mediate/indirect
knowledge or intellectual knowledge). But, what useful purpose
does this information serve? The Upanishad says that Self-realization
cannot be had through repeated information (na bahund shrutena).
It should help us to convert this jnana into aparoksha
jnana (immediate and direct realization). The first knowledge
is 'information' and the last one is 'realization'. That is
why the Kathopanishad says that even after having studied
this knowledge (shravanayapi) many do not become Brahman.
Shankara says in his commentary to the Brahmasutras that it
is seen that such people remain attached to the worldly matters
(shruta-brahmanah api samsaritva darshanat). Therefore,
the receiver (labdha) of this applied knowledge should
also be competent (kushala). We may contend that removal
of ajnana is the work of Shravana, Manana, and Nididhyasana;
so it does not come under karma. This is a misinterpretation.
Because, removing is a verb; hence it is meant for doing something
that may rightly be called 'work' - as huge as a Corporation
sweeper's work! Shankara was never tired of emphasizing the
need for grinding disciplines. (Cf. nigharshanena achchhadyate
svena paramarthikena gandhena, is covered up by their
natural scent through the process of rubbing properly.
Isha Up. 1)
The understanding. It is called 'realization'. Shankara
preached the philosophy of non-dual knowledge attaining which
a person does not relish permanence in his/her own body. This
unbelieveably austere philosophy was a tangible reality for
Shankara himself, howevermuch others would contradict the
same. When Shankara was staying at Srisailam, a Kapalika,
named Rudra Bhairava, persuaded him to agree to be the 108th
of the human sacrifices to be performed by him at the feet
of Shakti. This last of the 108 sacrifices would fulfil the
mandatory number required by the heinous ritual that the Kapalika
had undertaken. Shankara, the most vociferous of all the critics
of desire-prompted rituals, felt compassionate to the entreaties
of the Kapalika. The Kapalika perhaps had never had the privilege
of sacrificing such a high profile victim of the stature of
Shankara. In fact, Shankara himself connived with the Kapalika!
He told the Kapalika that the latter should arrange for the
sacrifice at dead of night when Shankara's disciples would
be fast asleep! The God of Fate smiled! The story goes that
Shankara did go surreptitiously to the sacrificial place,
but, as good luck would have it, his devoted disciple Padmapada,
was alerted in his dream at the right moment by his Ishta,
Nrisimhadeva. Padmapada reached the place on time and killed
the murderer. This incident presents an insight into the realization
of a Jnani of the non-dual Truth.
that as it may, when we look at the latter part of the sentence
- 'do whatever you like' - we realize that it is not a wholesale
permission. Because, in the understanding of this sentence
lies the whole lot of confusion. Let us recount an intelligent
story. A person was on his deathbed. He made his 'Last Will
and Testament' in favour of his trusted servant who was near
him serving in his illness. In the will he bequeathed all
his properties to the servant and directed him thus: 'I hereby
direct you [the servant] to give to my son whatever you like.'
In good time, after the death of the testator, the servant
called the master's son and offered a meagre ten per cent
of the total property. Astonished and disgruntled, the son
went to his lawyer for help. The matter came up for hearing
in the court. Understanding the implication of the words of
the father, the judge asked the servant, 'What percentage
of the property do you like to take for yourself?' The servant
replied, 'Why? I have told him that he would get ten per cent
of it. That means I would like to have ninety per cent for
myself.' 'Yes,' said the judge, 'you like ninety percent.
So give to the son "whatever you like". Give him
this ninety per cent.' In understanding Sri Ramakrishna's
blanket permission to all our wishes in 'do whatever you like',
we have to understand his interpretation of the word 'you'
from his other statements like 'an expert dancer never makes
a false step'. To appreciate the interpretation, we would
divide this 'you' in two stages of evolution. It would help
us discover the 'likes' of the person concerned.
The first stage of tying the 'non-dual knowledge at the
hem of our cloth': If we have a strong intellectual conviction
about our goal and we are working our best to reach it, then
it is but natural that our 'likes' would be in consonance
with and determined by our aspirations. At this first stage
only we are required to be careful about understanding our
goals. The Advaitic tradition offers such a great advantage.
It supplies us with an unambiguous idea about the road map,
so that we do not fall in the traps of a 'contrary understanding'
or a 'misunderstanding', and that we take up disciplines seriously
to reach the goal. Here we may recall the words of Sri Ramakrishna:
'Do something first; then you may become a King Janaka.'
The second stage: It is not a stage actually. But for
the purpose of our discussion we take it for a stage of a
realized 'you'. At this stage the realization of the persons
does not allow them to 'like' such acts as would be incongruent
with their knowledge of oneness. So Sri Ramakrishna gave the
instance of the perfect dancer. The Panchadashi warns
that if a person, who has realized the non-dual Reality, does
not behave according to his knowledge, then there would be
no difference between a dog and a realized person (shunam
tattvadrisham ko bhedah?).
is now time for us to understand the road map to appreciate
the interpretation of the phrase 'non-dual knowledge' used
by Sri Ramakrishna in the above-quoted sentence. The competence
of the students desirous of taking the path of knowledge has
been neatly delineated by Sadananda Yogindra in the Vedantasara.
The following is the whole map. An aspirant should DO these
Read the Vedas (Vedanta is included) formally with their auxiliaries
and acquire intellectual conviction either in this birth or
Avoid desire-prompted works, prohibited works (because these
alone do not come under the definition of karma that is valued
Perform regular and occasional duties, and compensate
for faulty actions causing loss or injury to others;
Perform meditation on the deities, with or without
symbols. This has been explained by Shankara in his commentary
to the third chapter of the Brahmasutras;
Discriminate between the Real and the unreal;
Cultivate dispassion for temporary goals both here and hereafter;
Acquire self-control; total withdrawal of the mind from sense-objects,
or renunciation; composure of mind, i.e., physical and mental
resilience; faith in the words of the scriptures and the guru;
and engage an extremely pure mind in the pursuit of jnana;
Desire for liberation from repeated birth and death;
Approach a guru for guidance in the path of Advaita;
Hear from the guru the great scriptural sayings about the
identity of the empirical self (Jivatman) and the transcendental
Self (Brahman), and then remove the obstacles from the path
of this non-dual knowledge.
let us verify if any aspect of our life has been left out
of this scheme - active (karma-yoga, i.e., use of hands),
emotional (bhakti-yoga, i.e., use of heart), meditative (dhyana-yoga,
i.e., use of mind) and intellectual (jnana-yoga, i.e., use
of head). This is a plan for a life wholly oriented towards
final liberation called Moksha. Hence, the whole life has
been taken care of. The road map as delineated above leads
to the threshold of the path of Knowledge, which begins after
the ninth condition of approaching a guru. Thereafter, if
the aspirant is exceptionally competent, he/she will be liberated
as soon as he or she hears the great sayings of the Upanishads.
Whereas aspirants below the calibre of Svetaketu of the days
of the Upanishads, have to listen to the great saying of Tat
tvam asi (You are Brahman) with elaborations for more
than nine times; to borrow from the expression of Christ it
may be 'ninety times nine'. It is, therefore, rational to
say that we would have to practise Manana, and Nididhyasana
until all the obstacles are removed. We have to DO this
confusion is created when we interpret all the DO's as the
karma that Shankara opposed. Shankara's objection is to the
karma that consists of kamya karmas (desire-prompted
work producing impermanent results, or selfish works) and
nishiddha karmas (prohibited works which are harmful),
but not all endeavours or performances. From this point of
view, the path of Advaita is an all-inclusive Darshana,
which is delineated by those who traversed this path gloriously.
We won't translate the word Darshana as 'philosophy'.
Philosophy is mostly speculative, whereas Darshana
is based on the facts available after realization. We may
compare 'philosophy' with the knowledge of those who are at
the ground level speculating over the things on the terrace
of the 10th floor and over the stairs or lifts leading there.
Darshana is comparable to the record of interviews
with the persons who ascended onto the terrace of the tenth