Sravana – Hearing

Chapter IV

Advaita Bodha Deepika(Lamp of non-dual knowledge) On of the few books highly spoken of by Bhagavan Sri Ramanamaharshi.

1. In the foregoing chapter we had seen that yoga is suited to the lower grade of seekers and enquiry to the higher. In this chapter we shall consider the path of enquiry which effortlessly leads to Knowledge of Brahman.

2-4. D.: What is this path of enquiry?

M.: From the shastras it is well known to consist of sravana, manana, nidhidhyasana and samadhi i.e., hearing the Truth, reflection, meditation and Blissful Peace. The Vedas themselves declare it to be so. “My dear, the Self must be heard from the master, reflected and meditated upon.” In another place it is said that in Blissful Peace the Self must be realised. The same idea has been repeated by Sri Sankaracharya in his Vakyavrtti, namely that until the meaning of the sacred text “I am Brahman” is realised in all its true significance, one must be practising sravana etc.

5-7. In Chitra Deepika, Sri Vidyaranyaswami has said that enquiry is the means of knowledge and it consists in hearing the Truth, reflection and meditation; only the state of blissful Peace of awareness in which Brahman alone exists and nothing else, is the true “nature” of Knowledge; the non-revival of the knot of the ego parading as “I” which has been lost once for all, is its “effect”; always to remain fixed as ‘I am the Supreme Self ‘ just as strongly, unequivocally and unerringly as the heretofore ignorant identification “I am the body” is its end; liberation is its fruit. From this it follows that only hearing etc. is the enquiry into the Self.

8-10. To hear the Supreme Truth, reflect and meditate on it, and to remain in Samadhi form together the enquiry into the Self. They have for their cause (Hetu) the aforesaid four sadhanas, namely, discernment, desirelessness, tranquillity and desire to be liberated. Which of these is essential for which part of enquiry will be mentioned in its appropriate place. Here we shall deal with sravana.

M.: Sravana consists in ascertaining, by means of the six proofs considered together, that the Vedas aim at the non-dual Brahman only.

11-12. To analyse sravana under the five categories:- Intense desire to be liberated gives rise to it; always to be hearing of the non-dual Brahman is its nature; the complete removal of that aspect of the veiling power of Ignorance which says, “It (Brahman) does not exist” is its effect; non recurrence of this veiling power is its limit; a firm indirect knowledge is its fruit.

13. D.: How can the desire to be liberated be said to be its cause?

M.: In the sruti it is said: “In the state of dissolution before creation there was only the non-dual Reality.” This Reality is the same as the Self. Only he who is eager to be liberated will seek the knowledge of the Self and take to hearing it. No other is interested in It. Therefore eagerness to be liberated is the essential requisite for this part of enquiry, viz. sravana.

14. D.: Just now you said that always to be hearing of the non-dual Self is the nature of sravana. Who is this non-dual Self?

M.: He is famous in the srutis as the Consciousness beyond the gross, subtle and causal bodies, apart from the five sheaths and witness of the waking, dream and sleep states.

15-17. D.: What can be beyond the gross, subtle and causal bodies?

M.: Of these the gross body is composed of skin, blood, muscles, fat, bones, nerve stuff and lymph; it is secreting and excreting; it is born and it dies; like a wall it is insentient; like a pot it is an object of the senses.

The subtle body is the internal organ (antahkarana) well- known as the mind, which functions as the ‘I’ mode and ‘this’ mode; together with the five vital airs, the five senses and the five organs and limbs, it transmigrates to other bodies or worlds; always remaining within a gross body it experiences pleasures and pains.

The beginningless, neither real nor unreal, and indes- cribable Ignorance manifests these subtle and gross bodies and is therefore said to be the causal body.

18. These three bodies are contrary to the nature of the Self.

D.: How?

M.: The gross body is insentient; the subtle is pain ridden; the causal is unreal. These are the opposites of the Being- Knowledge-Bliss nature of the Self. Therefore the Self must be different from these.

19-25. D.: How is it so from the five sheaths also?

M.: The five sheaths are the material, the vital, the mental, the intellectual and the blissful ones. Of these the material sheath is born of food and grows with food; it is thus food modified. Therefore it is material. Like a sheath to a sword, the body covers the Self and obstructs its knowledge. Therefore it is the material sheath. Moreover it has a beginning and an end. Therefore it is not the Self who is eternal.

Together the vital, the mental and the intellectual sheaths form the subtle body. Through the five passages in the body functioning in five different ways according to its modes, the vital air together with the five organs and limbs obstructs the Self from being known; therefore this is the vital sheath. Being insentient it cannot be the Self. Joined with desire, anger etc., thinking this and that, the “this” mode of mind manifests the latencies. Together with the five senses this “this” mode forms the mental sheath. Being insentient, it cannot be the Self.

Definitely to make out the “this” and “that” ideas of the mind to be a pot, a cloth etc., to have the false notion of ‘I’ in the body etc., and that of “mind”, in home, wealth, lands etc., is the nature of the ‘I’ mode. United with the five senses, this I-mode forms the intellectual sheath. Arising in the waking and dream states, joined with the body, permeating it from head to foot, it is resolved in swoons or in the deep sleep state; therefore it cannot be the eternal Self.

After waking from deep sleep every one feels, “I did not know anything — I slept happily.” Here ignorance and bliss are the experiences. This blissful ignorance is the blissful sheath. Being ignorant, it must be insentient and non self.

So far all the five sheaths have been shown to be non self. The experiencer in them must be different from them like the seer of a pot remaining different from it. There can be no doubt on this point.

26. D.: How is the Self said to be witnessing the three states?

M.: The three states are the waking, dream and deep sleep through which the Jiva or the ‘false-I’ or the ego passes, identifying itself with the gross, subtle and causal bodies respectively. The Self must therefore be the Consciousness witnessing these three states; “It” is not identical with any or all of them.

27. D.: If these three states are not of the Self, of whom else can they be?

M.: They can be only of the ego which assumes them whereas the Self is unconcerned. Affecting the waking state, the ego in the guise of visva enjoys the gross sense experiences; similarly in dream as taijasa he enjoys the subtle experiences; and in deep sleep as prajna he experiences ignorance. Therefore the ego must be the experiencer in these states and not the witnessing Self.

28-29. D.: What makes you say that the ego and not the Self is the experiencer of the three states?

M.: In deep sleep, the ego becoming dormant, no experience or experiencer is seen; only on the rise of the ego are they found. He must therefore be the experiencer. His are the two states of waking and dream; they cannot be those of the Self.

D.: Whose is deep sleep then?

M.: It is also of the ego, because just as it arrogates to itself the waking and dream states saying “I woke up — I dreamt”, so it does the deep sleep state also saying “I slept”. It cannot be of the Self since It remains unconcerned as the witness of the three states and of their experiencer who remains conceited with the ideas “I woke up — I dreamt — I slept.” Therefore none of the three states is of the Self.

30-31. D.: The ego cannot be the experiencer in deep sleep also. It is not there and how can it be said to be the experiencer? In the waking and dream states, the ego is rightly said to be the experiencer; in deep sleep the Self must be the experiencer.

M.: You are not right. The Jiva i.e., the ego, who in the waking and dream states appears as the intellectual sheath to enjoy gross and subtle things, sinks in deep sleep to remain dormant as the blissful sheath, experiencing ignorance and bliss as “I did not know anything — I slept happily.” Had the ego not been present in deep sleep, on waking there could not be the recollection “I did not know anything — I slept happily.” Only the experiencer can recollect his experiences and not another. Even the recollection can only be of what was actually experienced and not of what was not. On waking, it is the ego which says “I did not know anything — I slept happily”. From this it is clear that the experiencer in the deep sleep was the ego and not the Self.

32-33. D.: But for the blissful sheath of deep sleep, what can the witnessing Consciousness be?

M.: As the blissful sheath, it is ignorant; this ignorance is recognised later. The recogniser must be different from recognition and he must be the experiencer of the blissful sheath.

Now that he has fancied himself as the blissful sheath which is none other than ignorance, he remains ignorant himself because ignorance cannot know itself. Therefore it follows there must be the witness of this ignorance who simply illuminates the blissful sheath which appears as the idea “I do not know anything”, and remains apart from it. This witness is the Self.

D.: What evidence is there to prove that in deep sleep all is reduced to dormancy leaving the witness unaffected?

M.: The sruti says “The vision of the Witness can never be lost” meaning that when all else remains dormant and unknown, the Seer remains aware as ever.

34-35. D.: Well, in deep sleep which is itself ignorance, a cogniser is rightly inferred; but in the waking and dream states the intellectual sheath can be the cogniser and there is no place for a witness apart.

M.: You cannot think so. Just as in deep sleep the Self is the cogniser of the ignorance, so also in the other states it is the witness of the intellect knowing all waking and dream notions such as I dreamt — I woke up — I went — I came — I saw — I heard — I know — which clearly indicate a knower. Just as the witness is admitted to be aware of ignorance, so also it must be of knowledge as well. Moreover being a knower at one time, and not knower at another time, the intellectual sheath cannot be the witness.

D.: If so, let the Self, the witness of the intellect be also the experiencer.

M.: No, no! The witness of deep sleep and of its experiencer, cannot be the experiencer of the waking and dream states.

D.: If the Self be the witness of deep sleep and of its experiencer, can It not be the experiencer of the waking and dream states?

M.: No, he who sleeps must wake up or dream dreams. Never sleeping, ever aware as the witness of the three states and of their experiencer who thinks “I slept — I dreamt — I woke up”, the Self cannot have the three states nor be their experiencer. This cannot admit of any doubts.

36. D.: Why should not the Self be both witness and experiencer of the three states?

M.: Just as the witness watching two men fighting with each other does not fight himself, so also the witness cannot be the experiencer. Again as the fighter does not simply watch the fight but himself fights, so also the experiencer cannot be the witness. Therefore the same Self cannot be both the experiencer and the witness.

D.: Now what is the conclusion?

M.: The ‘false-I’ is the experiencer and the other one who is unconcernedly watching the states and their experiencer is the witness.

37. D.: In that case, for the three states are there three different witnesses or is there only one?

M.: The witness is only one whereas the states alternate one with another; the witness does not change. The same continuous awareness runs through the appearance, staying and disappearance of the three states. Thus the witness of the three states is the Self. The witness-hood of the Self has thus been described.

38. In this manner the tatastha lakshana of the Self has been described. Now we shall consider Its swarupa lakshana. It is Being-Knowledge-Bliss, single, all permeating, untainted, perfect, unchanged and non-dual.

39-41. D.: What is meant by Its ‘Being’?

M.: Always It remains witnessing the appearance and disappearance of all the states superimposed on It. Nay more — It was the Witness not only of the waking, dream and deep sleep states but also of the births, growths (childhood, youth, old age) and deaths of previous bodies (just as It is of this body and will be of future bodies). It is thus the one, continuous, ever existent witness of all these. Its “Being” is thus obvious.

42. D.: What is meant by Its being ‘Knowledge’?

M.: Inasmuch as It always remains illumining and manifesting the three states and their relative ‘false-I’, Knowledge is self evident.

43-46. D.: What is meant by Its being ‘Bliss’?

M.: Always being the one object of supreme joy, rather supreme joy itself, the Self is Bliss.

D.: Is not the non-self also pleasing? M.: No.

D.: Why not?

M.: Not by itself but only as an object of enjoyment for the individual self, the non-self is dear as husband, wife, child, wealth, home, pleasing unguents, sweet scents etc.

D.: Why are they said to be not pleasing by themselves?

M.: Should they be so, they must always remain so. At one time, one thing is pleasing and at other times, the same thing is nauseating.

D.: How?

M.: Take a woman, for instance. When the man is lustful, she is fancied to be pleasing; when he suffers from fever, she is not wanted; for a man grown desireless, she is of no interest at all. According to circumstances the same woman can be pleasing, unwanted, or of no interest. The same applies to all other objects of enjoyment. Thus the non-self cannot be pleasing.

47. D.: Is the Self always pleasing?

M.: Certainly; never do you know It to be otherwise.

48-49. D.: In cases of unbearable pain, the Self is given up in disgust. How can it be said to be always pleasing?

M.: The Self can never be given up because he who in disgust relinquishes the sufferings that are alien to him, does not give up himself.

D.: It is the Self that is given up by himself.

M.: In that case, if the Self is given up, there must be another who gives it up. On the other hand, he being the one who gives up, gives up the painful body which is different from himself, and not himself. Furthermore the very fact of occasional disgust with the body etc., proves that the non-self is painful and the Self joyful.

D.: How does it prove this?

M.: Should the Self be painful, pain could never be disliked.

Because one’s true nature is joy, one dislikes pain in the shape of body etc. Not being natural but only adventitious, ailments are not liked. Had they been natural, they could not be disliked. Just as the dislike of illness etc., shows that they are not natural but only adventitious, so also the dislike of the body etc., shows that these are similarly not natural and that joy is one’s own eternal true nature. Therefore a sudden and intense disgust with the body etc., makes a man rid himself of them but not of the Self. This very fact teaches that the body etc. are not the Self. It must now be obvious how the Self can never be the object of dislike to any one.

50-51. D.: Even if the Self cannot be detested, can It not be an object of indifference?

M.: No. Being oneself the one who is indifferent, one can be indifferent to the non-self e.g. a pebble or a blade of grass but not to oneself. Therefore the Self is not an object of occasional dislike like the body, woman etc. nor of indifference like a blade of grass or a pebble. Always It is Joy Itself.

52-53. D.: If the Self is always pleasing and so are sense- objects at the time of enjoyment, let them also be regarded as pleasing.

M.: The delight in any object is not lasting but what is now delightful soon yields its place to another more so. There are degrees of pleasure and succession of the objects liked.The pleasure in objects is only wanton and not steady. This is possible only if the pleasure is born of one’s own delusion and not of the intrinsic value of the object. For example, see how a dog chews a dry, marrowless bone until blood comes out of the wounds in its mouth, fancies the taste of its own blood to be that of the marrow of the bone and will not part with it. Should it find another similar bone, it drops down the one in its mouth and takes the other. In the same way, superimposing his own joyful nature on the detestable objects of fancy, the man delights in them by mistake, for joy is not their nature. Owing to the ignorance of man the objects which are really painful by nature seem to be pleasing. This seeming pleasure does not remain steady in one object but often shifts to other objects; it is wanton, graded, and not absolute, whereas the Joy of the Self is not captious. Even when the body etc., are cast off, this joy endures in the Self for ever; it is also absolute. Therefore the Self is Supreme Bliss. So far the Being-Knowledge-Bliss nature of the Self has been established.

54. D.: Do these three — Being, Knowledge and Bliss form the qualities or the nature of the Self?

M.: These are not qualities but the very Self. Just as heat, light, and redness form the nature of fire and are not its qualities, so also Being, Knowledge and Bliss are the nature of the Self.

55. D.: If the Self has three forms as Being, Knowledge and Bliss, are there then three selves?

M.: No. It is only one. Just as the fire showing forth as heat, light and redness, is not three but only one, or water appearing as coldness, fluidity and taste is only one, so also the Self shining forth as Being-Knowledge-Bliss is not three but only one.

56-58. D.: If the Self is only one, how can It be said to be ‘all permeating’?

M.: It is correct to say that the Self, being only One, is all permeating, because It is all knowing, It, as Knowledge, can permeate all.

D.: Being the inmost Self aware of the five sheaths of the body, can It be all knowing?

M.: Yes. It can. The whole universe made up of the five elements, their combinations and mutations is seen by Itself and by no other. Being insentient, the others cannot know. Otherwise the insentient like a pot etc., should be knowing. But it is not so. Only It knows all of them but they do not know It. It is the All knower.

D.: The Self perceives only such things as are within the ken of the senses and not those beyond. Where does It perceive Mt. Meru or Heaven?

M.: It knows all. In the Self which is but the Ether of Knowledge, all that is non-self i.e., insentient, appears in both manners, as perceived or unperceived. Just as in the Ether of Knowledge and not elsewhere, the home, lands, village, town and country seem perceived by the senses, so also things beyond the senses such as Mt. Meru or heaven appear as unperceived by them.

D.: Can anything unperceived by the senses appear at all? M.: Yes, it can. Though non-existent like the son of a barren woman, yet in the Ether of Knowledge, the home etc., appear as objects of perception, because the latencies of the mind present themselves so. In the same manner, though unreal and unperceived, Meru etc., are fancied by the mind and appear in the Ether of Knowledge.

D.: How?

M.: Before the witnessing consciousness in dreams the mental phenomena present themselves as objects of perception such as the home etc., and also others beyond perception like heaven etc. In the same way they do so in the waking state too. Otherwise one cannot say “I do not know heaven, Meru etc.” However one says “I do not know heaven, Meru etc.” This means that heaven, Meru etc., appear as objects unperceived by the senses. Thus the Self which knows all the insentient non- self, like Mt. Meru etc., is this Self only.

If not found in all (everywhere) but seen only within, as the inner Self witnessing the five sheaths, how can It know all? Certainly It cannot do so. In itself the mind fancies things far and near, perceptible and imperceptible, known and unknown. As their substratum the Self runs through and knows them all. The Self is thus all-pervading. Therefore the same Self only is in all and there can be no doubt of this.

59. D.: Should the Self be all-pervading, It must be associated with all and therefore tainted.

M.: No. Like the all-permeating ether, It is impartite and therefore unassociated. Not only untainted like the ether, but also surpassing it, the Self remains as the Ether of Consciousness. Therefore the srutis say “This Purusha is certainly untainted.”

60. D.: Being unassociated and thus untainted, beyond all, separate and indifferent, the Self must be imperfect.

M.: No. There exists nothing different nor similar to It; there are no parts in It. It remains undifferentiated externally and internally. It is Perfection. Though all-filling yet It remains unassociated like the ether.

D.: How can It be all-permeating and yet impartite?

M.: Not here nor there, but all-pervading, It is undivided in space. Not now, nor then, but ever-present, It is undivided in time. There is nothing beside the Self, It is the All-Self or the very being of everything; therefore It is undivided by anything.

It remains thus undivided by any or all these three, all-filling and perfect. Thus Its Perfection is proved.

61. D.: Because, all-pervading like the ether, the Self fills all, It must be changeful.

M.: No. Being the witness of all created elements, ether etc., that undergo changes, such as existence, birth, growth, transformation, decay and death, the Self cannot Itself be changeful. Otherwise like the other things It would be changing; then It must be born, grow and die away. Thus It must fall into the category of insentient things. If insentient, It cannot at all be aware. On the contrary, It is known always to remain as the witness of the birth, growth and decay of all the universe. It is also impartite. Therefore It must be free from changes.

62-63. D.: To say that the Self is free from changes implies the existence of non-self which is changing. Then the Self cannot be ‘non-dual’ and duality must result.

M.: No. There exists nothing besides the Self. It is ‘non- dual’. If the non-self is not different from the Self, there cannot be duality.

D.: How can the non-self be the Self and not separate from the Self?

M.: The Self is the origin of all. The effect cannot be different from its cause. We do not see them totally different from each other. Being the cause of all, the Self is identical with all. There can be nothing different from It.

64-66. D.: How can the Self be the origin of all?

M.: Being the seer of all, It is the origin of all.

D.: How can the seer be the origin?

M.: In all cases of illusion, only the seer is found to be the cause of all of them. When nacre is seen to be silver, the material cause is no other than the seer; the same is the case with all dream-visions for they have their origin in the dreamer only. Similarly with the illusion of the world of the waking state, the seer must be the cause.

D.: Should the universe be a myth, your conclusion will follow. Is this universe only a myth?

M.: First there is the authority of the srutis which say that in dissolution there remains only the non-dual Self and in creation the names and forms are by Maya superimposed on It like the name and form of a snake on a dimly visible rope.

Secondly, reasoning shows the illusory nature of this universe because it is seen to appear and disappear like the unreal visions in dreams.

Thirdly, the sages have proclaimed their realisation that all this is but illusory and that only Brahman is real.

Therefore all this universe is really false. Now it is but right to say that being the witness, the Self is the sole cause of all this universe which is but an illusory appearance on the Self. The illusory effect cannot be separate from the basis. Just as the foam, bubbles and waves are not different from their origin, the sea, so also the phenomena of the Universe are but the Self falsely presented.

Therefore the Self is ‘non-dual’ and there can be no duality.

67. In the presence of the master always attentively to study the Vedanta shastra which treats of the non-dual Being and retain its meaning forms the “nature” of sravana or hearing. This must always be attended to.

68. D.: What is the “effect” of this sravana?

M.: It destroys that veiling part of ignorance which hitherto made one think “Where is this non-dual Self? Nowhere”. To destroy this ignorant conclusion of the non-existence of the non-dual Self is its “effect”.

69-70. D.: How long should one continue sravana?

M.: Until the doubt of the non-existence of the non-dual Being does not rear its head again. The non-recurrence of this doubt is said to be the “limit” of the process of sravana.

D.: Can the doubt once set at rest, recur?

M.: Yes, it can.

D.: How?

M.: In many passages in the srutis, duality is dealt with and can easily be mistaken to be proved. For instance, one studies the shastras dealing with Vishnu and becomes devoted to Him; later on, finding other gods similarly dealt with, one’s devotion to Vishnu is likely to suffer. In the same manner, a study of the Advaita shastras removes the doubt regarding non- dual Being, yet the dvaita shastras may lead to a different conclusion and the student may lose faith in the non-duality of Being. Therefore one must continue sravana till the different texts do not shake one’s reasoned faith in non-dual Being.

D.: What is the “fruit” of sravana?

M.: When once for all the non-belief in the non-duality of Being is destroyed, no sacred text or tricky argument can make the seeker deviate from his faith. All obstructions to his faith thus removed, he remains steady in his indirect knowledge of non-dual Being. This is the “fruit” of sravana.

71. D.: What is this indirect knowledge?

M.: To know the true nature of the inmost Self, not by direct experience but by a study of the shastras, is called indirect Knowledge. Although one does not see Vishnu face to face yet through the evidence of the shastras one believes in His existence; this forms only common (samanya) knowledge. Similarly a common knowledge of non-duality of Brahman gained through the advaita shastras is indirect knowledge.

72-76. D.: Why should the knowledge arising from sravana be said to be indirect? Can it not be direct?

M.: No. So long as the Inner Self cannot shine forth owing to the other veiling aspect of Ignorance (abhanavarana) mere knowledge of Its existence cannot be called direct.

D.: Is this confirmed by others also?

M.: Yes. Sri Vidyaranyaswamy says in Dhyana Deepika: “Though by sravana, Brahman can be understood to be Being- Knowledge-Bliss, yet It cannot thus be directly experienced as the sole-Being witnessing the five sheaths. Although from the shastras, Vishnu is understood to be four-armed, holding a disc, a conch and a mace in His hands, and even a mental picture of Him can manifest in one-pointed meditation, yet He is not seen directly with these eyes; therefore the knowledge of Him remains only indirect.” The knowledge gained from the shastras is thus only indirect and not directly experienced. Similarly the knowledge gained by sravana can remain only indirect and is not directly experienced.

D.: Here Vishnu is not the Self but is different. It is but right that knowledge of Him gained from the shastras remains indirect. But Brahman is not different from the Self. To the seeker who is ignorant of this identity, the srutis reveal the fact saying, “That thou art”. On learning its true significance he should be said to have directly realised the Truth. This knowledge cannot remain indirect like that of heaven etc. Sravana must therefore end in directly experienced knowledge.

M.: Not so. It is true that the sacred text reveals the Truth, “That thou art”. Still direct knowledge does not result merely by hearing it. In the absence of enquiry into the Self, knowledge cannot become direct. In order to have this indirect knowledge directly experienced, it is necessary to reflect on it.

77. Here ends the chapter on sravana. The student who reads this carefully will gain indirect knowledge. In order to experience directly, he will seek to know the nature of manana or reflection.


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