A Treatise on the Vedanta Philosophy and Its Methodology
by Swami Krishnananda
The Upanishads lay down that an aspirant after the Absolute should be endowed with
“tranquillity of mind, self-control, cessation from activity, fortitude, faith and concentration of thought.” —Brih Up., IV. 4. 23.
Self-purification, self-discipline and austere penances consist in the negation of individual relations through total self-abnegation and refusal to indulge in subject-object-relationship. The difficulty of this achievement is well warned about:
“A sharpened edge of a razor, hard to tread, a difficult path is this”;and therefore we are advised: “Arise! Awake! Obtaining men of wisdom, know (it).” —Katha Up., III. 14.
“To them belongs that unblemished Abode of Brahman, in whom there is no crookedness and falsehood, nor tricks.” —Prash. Up., I. 16.
“He dries up even to the very roots, who speaks untruth.” —Prash. Up., VI. 1.
“This Atman is attainable through truth, austerity, perfect knowledge, self-restraint, unremittingly (practised).” —Mund. Up., III. 1. 5.
The Upanishads are never tired of emphasising that truth (satya) and self-restraint (brahmacharya) are the most important of the accessories to Purity and Knowledge. We find them almost everywhere suggesting that Brahman is reached through brahmacharya. Prajapati’s instructions to gods, men and demons, who, by nature, have an excess of passion, greed and anger in them respectively, lay down “self-restraint (continence), charity and compassion” as the remedies for these three propensities (Brih. Up., V. 2). Complete world-renunciation also is suggested in the statements: “Brahmanas who know the Self wander as mendicants,” and “practise penance in forests, living on alms.” The scholar is asked to “become disgusted with learning and desire to live as a child”, and then to “get disgusted even with the childlike state” and “become a sage”, and then, again, to “transcend the states of both sagehood and non-sage-hood” and “become a Brahmana (Knower of Brahman).” “Everything is dear for the love of the Self,” and hence, towards all that is seen and heard a total indifference should be developed. In the Infinite, nothing else is seen, nothing else is heard, nothing else is known. When the self is emptied, the Absolute shall fill it with itself. “All the desires that are lodged in the heart should be plucked out” and “the five senses of knowledge should cease together with the mind, and the intellect should not function.” “Not he who has not ceased from bad conduct, not he who is not tranquil, not he who is not composed in mind, can attain Him through intelligence.”
The realisation of the worthlessness of having any connection with the objects of the universe is a single fatal stroke on all evil conduct. An action or a thing cannot be judged through its objective worth. Material prosperity does not become the criterion of truth and justice. “There is no hope of Immortality through wealth.” The true worth of a person or a thing does not depend upon what he or it appears to others. Nothing achieved by a person, however praiseworthy and grand it may seem, is worth a farthing, if he has no knowledge of Truth. “If one is to perform sacrifices and worship and undergo penance in this world even for many thousands of years, without knowing that Imperishable Being, transient indeed is what he has done.” The seeker should not be cheated by the joyous beauty and the dignified life of the sense-world. Where there is no cat, rat is the king. As long as the oceanic flood of the Consciousness of Brahman does not uproot the tree of samsara, the world seems to be an adamantine truth. A thoughtful person should discriminate that his ability, his greatness, his power, his different desires and ambitions are to be spread out in the realm of the indestructible Reality and not in this world of mortals, not even in the heaven of the gods. Such separative temptations should be checked and transformed to constitute a force that reveals the Inner Essence of life. This dispassion is cultivated through the discernment of the non-different nature of the subject and the object. The indifference to the perceptible variety should always be born of an intelligent conviction of truth and not of mere failure in life. True renunciation is inseparable from an intense love for the Real. Dispassion for relative life means a passion for what is absolutely true. The distaste for phenomenal life is the desire for self-integration and mystic introversion.
It is not possible to transcend finite life unless the seeker rejects all changing forms and boycotts the natural flow of the current of manifestation. The more complete the work of the manifesting nature, the more is the Truth hidden from view. The secret of triumphing over the overwhelming expressional habit of life lies in the firm holding back of the objective current. The rule of self-control does not spare the expression of even the highest intellect. Even a brilliant exposition of the nature of the Metaphysical Reality is not without the taint of some lack of restraint on the part of the philosopher. Truth is mercilessly just and exact and is not favourably disposed to even the least lapse from itself. Brahmacharya is a “categorical imperative”, which, in the Chhandogya Upanishad (VIII. 5), is stated to be not merely the generally understood student-period of continence and study of the Vedas under a preceptor, but the entire course of life of the Brahmana, regarded as the way to the realisation of the Self. The Anu-Gita says that a brahmachari is one who has effected complete self-control, who rests in Brahman, and who moves about in the world as a form of Brahman. He is a votary of perfect non-injury and love. Compassion is the process of the Self-fulfilment of the essential Spirit through a spontaneous outflow of itself towards egoless conscious beings. The man of self-control is circumspect about the evil one who often comes even in the garb of holiness and piety. His spiritual eye is always open.
The seeker may, if necessary, know the different methods of approaching the Absolute, to clear his doubts regarding ultimate facts. But it is not always without the danger of confusing the aspirant about fundamental matters. No philosopher has ever been able to standardise the way to the realisation of Brahman. There are always what are called “ultimate doubts” which no human being can clear. Even if there are millions of methods differing from one another, they become one when extended to their own absolutes. The Absolute is one, whatever be its nature. It is best, therefore, for every seeker to take to one method and go on with it until its own absolute is reached. It will be realised that the absolute of one is the Absolute of all. “As water rained upon narrow passages runs here and there along mountains, so he who perceives many dharmas separately runs with them alone” (Katha Up., IV. 14). It is the nature of the Infinite Reality to appear to be accessible through infinite ways, each being true when it proceeds to the Infinite, and “as pure water poured into pure (water) becomes like that (pure water) itself, so becomes the self of the seer who has knowledge” (Katha Up., IV. 15). Clearsightedness, passionlessness, serenity, self-restraint. indifference to the world, fortitude, faith, collectedness of mind and yearning for liberation from bondage are the prerequisites of spiritual meditation.
However intelligent the seeker may be, it is not possible, except in the very rare cases of the perfected unworldly beings, for him to grasp the exact technique of meditation on the Ideal of Attainment. Spiritual knowledge is imparted with the best result, not so much through the precision of reason and logic, as by image, art and beauty. It is the change of the feelings of the heart and not merely of the understandings of the intellect that touches the being of the inner man. Adhyatma-Vidya is the science of the innermost essence of the universe, and it does not come under the intellectual categories of objective discernment. The teachings of the sages have all had the conspicuous characteristic of appealing to the whole nature of a person, not merely to an aspect of him. The highest teachings are accomplished in the language of the heart of man. The troubles of life are not alleviated through flowery expressions and subtle hair-splitting. The cause of sorrow is rooted in the very make-up of the individual and not only in his superficial coatings. The inner disease is not cured by washing simply the outer shirt. The root of illness has to be dug out.
The best performance always becomes possible when both the subject and the object effect a conscious interaction, not so much when the effort is exercised by the subject alone. Mind is objectified universal consciousness. The conscious subject and the conscious object are both consciousness-stresses differing only in the degree of the subtlety and the expansiveness of their condition. Each higher, subtler and more expansive state is more potent and inclusive than the lower. No action or event is completely subjective or completely objective in the lower limited sense of their individuality. The truth is midway between the two. Action and reaction are the subjective and the objective forces simultaneously working, each being intimately connected with the other. The external and the internal are the two complementary phases of the one whole being. There is no purpose served when there is eye to see but no light, or, when there is light but no eye to see. The contact of both effects perception. If entire individual subjectivity were the truth, the individual would have been the absolute lord of the universe, and, if entire objectivity were the truth, no individual could attain liberation, and freedom would be a chimera. The subject and the object have, therefore, equal shares in determining the effect of their interaction. The internal and the external forms of the one power of being blend together to produce an effect.
This fact well explains the wonderful process of the teacher’s imparting of knowledge to the disciple. The transformation of the consciousness of the disciple is the joint action of the receptive capacity and the conscious exertion of the disciple and the consciousness-force of the teacher sending it forth. The teacher should be
“a shrotriya and a brahmanishtha.” —Mund. Up., I. 2. 12.
The more potent spiritual energy of the teacher is infused into the less purified mental state of the disciple which results in the dispelling of the darkness and the enlightening of the mind of the latter. The consciousness of the teacher enters the dark corner in the disciple who bears it with the strength of truth and purity and receives it to the extent his mind is purged of rajas and tamas.
We hear of earnest seekers going to a teacher and imploring,
“Adhihi bhagavo brahma,”
“O great sire, teach me Brahman.” Bhrigu learnt Brahma-Vidya from his teacher, Varuna, Nachiketas from Yama, Sukesha and others from Pippalada, Shaunaka from Angiras, Svetaketu from Uddalaka, Narada from Sanatkumara, Indra from Prajapati, Maitreyi from Yajnavalkya. The disciples are generally asked to observe silence and continence in sequestration for many years before being initiated into the sacred truth. They had a great joy in leading a natural life in isolated places, practising spiritual penance. The transcendental mystery is not easy to be contemplated upon amidst the distracting bustle of social life. The distant forests, thick and green, away from the touch of the air of the business of worldly life, have ever since ages managed to attract lovers of silence and peace. The forests breathe a new life, unknown to the common man, and speak in the language of eternity. They seem to be happily unaware of the revolting forces and the brute conflicts in nature which man so much complains of. In these forests, the seekers spend their time in silent meditation, entirely devoted to the Supreme Reality. “Faith, continence, austerity and knowledge” (Prash. Up., I. 10) are the watchwords of these blessed ones who practise Self-integration with iron-determination. The sincere votaries of Truth, equipped with all the spiritually ethical qualifications,
“realising that the Not-Done can never be reached through what is done, getting disgust for the action-bound world,”
went humbly and reverentially to the Preceptor for receiving from him that knowledge which reveals the Imperishable. And to them the glorious Teacher speaks the Knowledge of Brahman. The disciples were “those high-souled ones who had the highest devotion to the Supreme Being, and for their preceptor as much as for the Supreme Being.” To them alone, it is declared, the truth becomes illumined. Uddalaka, illustrating his proposition that only “he who has got a preceptor can know” the Truth, compares the one who is without a spiritual guide to a blindfolded man who may miss his way and reach some other undesirable destination due to his lack of sight. The Mundaka Upanishad says that he who is desirous of real prosperity should worship the knower of the Self. No sophistry of intellect is allowed to hamper the growth of the divine relation that exists between the Guru and the sishya.
“Even the gods had doubt as to this, for truly, it is not easy to be known; very subtle is this matter” —Katha Up., I. 21.
“He is not easy to be known when told by an inferior person, though (He may be) expounded about manifoldly; unless declared by another (who is supremely wise), there is no way (of attaining Him); for He is inconceivably subtler than what is very subtle, and unarguable.” —Katha Up., II. 8.
Even the proud Indra and the great Narada became humble before their teachers. This speaks of the majestic transcendentness of the Absolute, not knowable through easy means. How innocent and simple was that Satyakama who said to his teacher, when asked about his parentage,
“Sire, I do not know this, of what family I am; I asked my mother. She told me in reply: ‘I begot you in my youth, when I was much busy in service, and I, being such, do not know this, of what family you are’.”
Then, the teacher inferred that Satyakama must be a Brahmana, telling him that “a non-Brahmana will not be able to speak thus (the truth)” and accepted him as disciple. Narada bows down and says, “O Lord, I am in sorrow; may the Lord take me across sorrow.”
“Not by reasoning is this knowledge to be attained; instructed about by another, it is easy to be known.” —Katha Up., II. 9.
These make it clear that Self-knowledge cannot be attained by an individual striving for himself in his ignorance independently, without a teacher. None can reach it by his own personal effort, without a proper guide; very mysterious and subtle is it. Book-learning is dead knowledge; the knowledge which directly comes from the teacher is a dynamic consciousness-power. With regard to this it is said:
“The father should speak the knowledge of Brahman to the eldest son or a worthy pupil, not to anyone else; even if one should offer him this sea-girt (earth) filled with its treasures, verily, (he should consider that) this (knowledge) is greater than that; verily, this is greater than that.” —Chh. Up., III. 11. 5.
The initiation is only a matriculation of the pupil in the spiritual current, but the actual effort to soar high into the Absolute is to be exercised by him with the grace of the preceptor through protracted
“meditation which is the firm restraining of the senses, with vigilance and non-pride, for the meditative condition comes and goes.” —Katha Up., VI. 11.
There is no greater error than spiritual pride. Even the state of high meditation is transitory, it passes away quickly. Let there be no pride, no conceit, even if one may feel that he is about to be finally liberated. The light of discrimination should always be kept bright. When the process of practice is perfect, there quickly comes the highest experience of Reality.