'Text-days' are for delving into the words and theory of Advaita Vedanta.
We are now studying Aatmabodha. As always, with each week, you are encouraged to review the previous teachings and spend some time in contemplation of the meanings as the affect your life. Please do consider purchasing the text. Remember, also, to recite the mangala charana before each study and review the lessons before each new one.
[NB; there have been some technical difficulties getting sound-clips organised… continuing to work on production, but we may have to skip chanting practice for this. It is not essential to the learning - though chanting does give focus and charm to the study!]
baexae=Nysaxne_yae ih sa]aNmae]EKsaxnm!,
pakSy viûvJ}an< ivna mae]ae n isXyit.2.
bodho.anyasaadhanebhyo hi saaxaanmoxaiksaadhanam.
paakasya vahnivajGYaanaM vinaa moxo n sidhyati..2..
2: Just as the fire is the direct cause for cooking, knowledge is the direct means of Liberation. Compared to all other forms of discipline, Knowledge of the Self is the only direct means of Liberation.
In the mangala charana itself, the teacher had made clear who was the prime shishya for higher Vedantic teaching. There are some who may hear that shloka and consider it a possibility that practice of austerities alone might be a path to moksha. The teacher now seeks to dispel any such thought. The austerities are merely purifiers of the physical body such that the mind can focus on the gaining of the proper Knowledge and this is emphasised by the saying '..compared to all other forms of discipline..'
It is not that other disciplines/paths cannot lead one to liberation - but that if one is truly desirous and wishes the most direct path, then Jnaan alone is it. As with any 'direct path', this comes with difficulties. Any hill, any mountain, traversed directly upwards tries the fittest of the fit! It is for this reason that it is said one must be well seated in sadhana for this path.
What is the cooking analogy? This is one of the methods of conveying concepts to beginners. We all know that if we do not switch on the oven, the bread will not bake; without the heat on the hob, the vegetable cannot boil. Food is food and can be prepared many ways, but the most direct way of ensuring it is edible is to place it on fire (heat). We go through all the preparations - peeling, chopping, kneading, shaping - putting everything into the appropriate pot or tray and even placing the utensils upon the stove; but unless we light the fire, nothing will advance in terms of making the food edible. Fire is therefore the direct means of the food being 'liberated'. Similarly, the performance of rituals, offerings, austerities and so forth, whilst definitely a boost to one's spiritual growth, are not of themselves the 'heat' providing the finishing off of our sorrows.
It is only with Knowledge of the purpose of puja, japa, tapas and their application, that they become alive and truly useful to us. Then, when it comes to it, that final 'boiling' to bring us to liberation, Knowledge alone is the key. This point is looked at again in the next shloka.
Aivraeixtya kmR naiv*a< ivinvtRyet!,
iv*a=iv*a< inhNTyev tejiStimrs<"vt!.3.
avirodhitayaa karma naavidyaaM vinivartayet.
vidyaa.avidyaaM nihantyeva tejastimirasaMghavat..3..
3: Action cannot destroy ignorance, as it is not opposed to ignorance. Knowledge does verily destroy ignorance, just as light destroys deep darkness.
Often, when we are feeling that things are not quite working, or our patience is weak, we are inclined to think that 'doing something' will move things along. (We are talking here of things like the afore-mentioned puja, japa, tapas - not the everyday necessary activities and work.) Certainly, there may be some perceivable and immediate movement from our action, but in spiritual terms what has been achieved really? The action may have salved feelings of tension, frustration, impatience; on the positive side it may have served as an anchor, a focus, a rung on the ladder of upliftment and, for sure, we will feel good about ourselves for having sat before the Lord and worshipped. Has such action truly brought us closer to sitting in Brahman, however? What is more, action can very easily become automatic. Our mind is not at all focused on what the hands are doing or what the mouth is reciting. Actions can be performed with minimal or no Knowledge.
At this juncture it is important to be clear about the capital letter Knowledge; when used this way in Vedanta, it is Knowledge of the Supreme Consciousness, the Higher Self, which is being referred to. This is considered the ultimate Knowledge and all other knowledges are parts of that, just as all souls are part of the One Soul… as raindrops are part of the ocean. One might be the greatest professor of the highest science - but without this final piece of the puzzle, all that knowledge holds no value, spiritually.
It is an interesting thing that those closest to the research of the origins of the universe - the physicists - often will decry 'God' and stick to the cold, hard facts within the physical realm. Then, most who reach a certain advancement, will start to look with a level of awe and begin to ponder the possibilities of 'something more'. Notice that in pure Vedantic understanding, 'God' is not referred to. The term for that which is the 'something more' is Brahman, though other terms are also used - Aatman, Self, Sat-Chit-Aananda (Truth-Consciousness-Bliss). With each passing year, ever-deeper discoveries of the physical mysteries are drawing physicists closer to the spiritual mysteries as described by the Rsis of millennia past! Thus it might be said that the actions of the scientists, whilst not destroying the ignorance which provides Liberation of the human being, are certainly stepping stones. What would be required of each of them would be to surrender to inner researches of the same magnitude. Creating their own, personal 'big bang'. The continual insistence on staying with the purely physical blocks them from the best of all discoveries.
If the Aatman be, as described by the Rsis, ever-present, all-pervasive, etc., then It is not to be striven for, or obtained from somewhere...because it is already here, within us.
Thus, even actions considered as divine do not provide a direct means of connecting with that Knowledge.
The analogy used in this shloka is that of light in the deepest darkness. In a dark room, even if we think we know it well, if we go looking for something it is very difficult to find. If, however, we switch on the lamp, our search is rather easier. Thus it is with scriptural Knowledge - it is the torch in our hands, leading us to the source of all light - but only when we enter that final stage of understanding can we say that we ourselves illuminate. The simple fact is that the light is already shining, but due to the ignorance, the avidya, which has us believing we are these fleshy, finite critters.. that matter matters... we are stuck in spiritual ignorance.