PRACTICE (Abhyasa)



PRACTICE (Abhyasa)

Abhyasa:1. What is the method of practice? As the Self of a person who tries to attain Self-realization is not different from him and as there is nothing other than or superior to him to be attained by him, Self-realization being only the realization of one’s own nature, the seeker of liberation realizes, without doubts or misconceptions, his real nature by distinguishing the eternal from the transient, and never swerves from his natural state. This is known as the practice of knowledge. This is the enquiry leading to Self- realization. 2. Can this path of enquiry be followed by all aspirants? This is suitable only for ripe souls. The rest should follow different methods according to the state of their minds. 3. What are the other methods? They are (i) stuti, (ii) japa, (iii) dhyana, (iv) yoga, (v) jnana, etc. (i) Stuti is singing the praises of the Lord with a great feeling of devotion. (ii) Japa is uttering the names of the gods or sacred mantras like Om either mentally or verbally. (While following the methods of stuti and japa the mind will sometimes be concentrated (lit. closed) and sometimes diffused (lit. open). The vagaries of the mind will not be evident to those who follow these methods). (iii) Dhyana denotes the repetition of the names, etc., mentally (japa) with feelings of devotion. In this method the state of the mind will be understood easily. For the mind does

not become concentrated and diffused simultaneously. When one is in dhyana it does not contact the objects of the senses, and when it is in contact with the objects it is not in dhyana. Therefore those who are in this state can observe the vagaries of the mind then and there and by stopping the mind from thinking other thoughts, fix it in dhyana. Perfection in dhyana is the state of abiding in the Self (lit., abiding in the form of ‘That’ — tadakaranilai). As meditation functions in an exceedingly subtle manner at the source of the mind it is not difficult to perceive its rise and subsidence. (iv) Yoga: The source of the breath is the same as that of the mind; therefore the subsidence of either leads effortlessly to that of the other. The practice of stilling the mind through breath control (pranayama) is called yoga. Fixing their minds on psychic centres such as the sahasrara (lit. the thousand-petalled lotus) yogis remain for any length of time without awareness of their bodies. As long as this state continues they appear to be immersed in some kind of joy. But when the mind which has become tranquil emerges (becomes active again) it resumes its worldly thoughts. It is therefore necessary to train it with the help of practices like dhyana, whenever it becomes externalised. It will then attain a state in which there is neither subsidence nor emergence. (v) Jnana is the annihilation of the mind in which it is made to assume the form of the Self through the constant practice of dhyana or enquiry (vichara). The extinction of the mind is the state in which there is a cessation of all efforts. Those who are established in this state never swerve from their true state. The terms ‘silence’ (mauna) and inaction refer to this state alone. Note: (1) All practices are followed only with the object of concentrating the mind. As all the mental activities like remembering, forgetting, desiring, hating, attracting, discarding,

etc., are modifications of the mind, they cannot be one’s true state. Simple, changeless being is one’s true nature. Therefore to know the truth of one’s being and to be it, is known as release from bondage and the destruction of the knot (granthi nasam). Until this state of tranquillity of mind is firmly attained, the practice of unswerving abidance in the Self and keeping the mind unsoiled by various thoughts is essential for an aspirant. (2) Although the practices for achieving strength of mind are numerous, all of them achieve the same end. For it can be seen that whoever concentrates his mind on any object, will, on the cessation of all mental concepts, ultimately remain merely as that object. This is called successful meditation (dhyana siddhi). Those who follow the path of enquiry realize that the mind which remains at the end of the enquiry is Brahman. Those who practise meditation realize that the mind which remains at the end of the meditation is the object of their meditation. As the result is the same in either case it is the duty of aspirants to practise continuously either of these methods till the goal is reached. 4. Is the state of ‘being still’ a state involving effort or effortless? It is not an effortless state of indolence. All mundane activities which are ordinarily called effort are performed with the aid of a portion of the mind and with frequent breaks. But the act of communion with the Self (atma vyavahara) or remaining still inwardly is intense activity which is performed with the entire mind and without break. Maya (delusion or ignorance) which cannot be destroyed by any other act is completely destroyed by this intense activity which is called ‘silence’ (mauna). 5. What is the nature of maya? Maya is that which makes us regard as non-existent the Self, the Reality, which is always and everywhere present, all-pervasive and self-luminous, and as existent the individual soul (jiva), the world (jagat), and God (para) which have been conclusively proved to be non-existent at all times and places. 6. As the Self shines fully of its own accord why is it not generally recognised like the other objects of the world by all persons? Wherever particular objects are known it is the Self which has known itself in the form of those objects. For what is known as knowledge or awareness is only the patency of the Self (atma shakti). The Self is the only sentient object. There is nothing apart from the Self. If there are such objects they are all insentient and therefore cannot either know themselves or mutually know one another. It is because the Self does not know its true nature in this manner that it seems to be immersed and struggling in the ocean of birth (and death) in the form of the individual soul. 7. Although the Lord is all-pervasive it appears, from passages like ‘adorning him through His grace’, that He can be known only through His grace. How then can the individual soul by its own efforts attain Self-realization in the absence of the Lord’s grace? As the Lord denotes the Self and as grace means the Lord’s presence or revelation, there is no time when the Lord remains unknown. If the light of the sun is invisible to the owl it is only the fault of that bird and not of the sun. Similarly can the unawareness by ignorant persons of the Self which is always of the nature of awareness be other than their own fault? How can it be the fault of the Self? It is because grace is of the very nature of the Lord that He is well known as ‘the blessed grace’. Therefore the Lord, whose nature itself is grace, does not have to bestow His grace. Nor is there any particular time for bestowing His grace.

8. What part of the body is the abode of the Self ? Abhyasa: The heart on the right side of the chest is generally indicated. This is because we usually point to the right side of the chest when we refer to ourselves. Some say that the sahasrara (the thousand-petalled lotus) is the abode of the Self. But if that were true the head should not fall forward when we go to sleep or faint. 9. What is the nature of the heart? The sacred texts describing it say: Between the two breasts, below the chest and above the abdomen, there are six organs of different colours . One of them 1 resembling the bud of a water lily and situated two digits to the right is the heart. It is inverted and within it is a tiny orifice which is the seat of dense darkness (ignorance) full of desires. All the psychic nerves (nadis) depend upon it. It is the abode of the vital forces, the mind and the light (of consciousness). 2Abhyasa: But, although it is described thus, the meaning of the word heart (hridayam) is the Self (Atman). As it is denoted by the terms existence, consciousness, bliss, eternal and plenum (sat, chit, anandam, nityam, purnam) it has no differences such as exterior and interior or up and down. That tranquil state in which all thoughts come to an end is called the state of the Self. When it is realized as it is, there is no scope for discussions about its location inside the body or outside. 10.Abhyasa: Why do thoughts of many objects arise in the mind even when there is no contact with external objects? All such thoughts are due to latent tendencies (purva samskaras). They appear only to the individual consciousness (jiva) which has forgotten its real nature and become 1 These are not the same as the chakras. 2  See Reality in Forty Verses: Supplement, 18-19.

externalised. Whenever particular things are perceived, the enquiry ‘Who is it that sees them?’ should be made; they will then disappear at once. 11. How do the triple factors (i.e., knower, known and knowledge), which are absent in deep sleep, samadhi, etc., manifest themselves in the Self (in the states of waking and dreaming)? From the Self there arise in succession: (i) Chidabhasa (reflected consciousness) which is a kind of luminosity. (ii) Jiva (the individual consciousness) or the seer or the first concept. (iii) Phenomena, that is the world. 12. Since the Self is free from the notions of knowledge and ignorance how can it be said to pervade the entire body in the shape of sentience or to impart sentience to the senses? Wise men say that there is a connection between the source of the various psychic nerves and the Self, that this is the knot of the heart, that the connection between the sentient and the insentient will exist until this is cut asunder with the aid of true knowledge, that just as the subtle and invisible force of electricity travels through wires and does many wonderful things, so the force of the Self also travels through the psychic nerves and, pervading the entire body, imparts sentience to the senses, and that if this knot is cut, the Self will remain as it always is, without any attributes. 13.Abhyasa: How can there be a connection between the Self which is pure knowledge and the triple factors which are relative knowledge? This is, in a way, like the working of a cinema as shown in the next page. Just as the pictures appear on the screen as long as the film throws the shadows through the lens, so the phenomenal world

will continue to appear to the individual in the waking and dream states as long as there are latent mental impressions.Abhyasa: Just as the lens magnifies the tiny specks on the film to a huge size and as a number of pictures are shown in a second, so the mind enlarges the sprout-like tendencies into tree-like thoughts and shows in a second innumerable worlds. Again, just as there is only the light of the lamp visible when there is no film, so the Self alone shines without the triple factors when the mental concepts in the form of tendencies are absent in the states of deep sleep, swoon and samadhi.Abhyasa: Just as the lamp illumines the lens, etc., while remaining unaffected, the Self illumines the ego (chidabhasa), etc., while remaining unaffected. 14. What is dhyana (meditation)? It is abiding as one’s Self without swerving in any way from one’s real nature and without feeling that one is meditating. As one is not in the least conscious of the different states (waking, dreaming, etc.) in this condition, the sleep (noticeable) here is also regarded as dhyana. 15. What is the difference between dhyana and samadhi? Dhyana is achieved through deliberate mental effort; in samadhi there is no such effort. 16. What are the factors to be kept in view in dhyana? It is important for one who is established in his Self (atma nishta) to see that he does not swerve in the least from this absorption. By swerving from his true nature he may see before him bright effulgences, etc., or hear (unusual) sounds or regard as real the visions of gods appearing within or outside himself. He should not be deceived by these and forget himself. Note:  (i) If the moments that are wasted in thinking of the objects which are not the Self, are spent on enquiry into the Self, Self-realization will be attained in a very short time.

ii) Until the mind becomes established in itself some kind of bhavana (contemplation of a personified god or goddess with deep emotion and religious feeling) is essential. Otherwise the mind will be frequently assailed by wayward thoughts or sleep. (iii) Without spending all the time in practising bhavanas like ‘I am Siva’ or ‘I am Brahman’, which are regarded as nirgunopasana (contemplation of the attributeless  Brahman), the method of enquiry into oneself should be practised as soon as the mental strength which is the result of such upasana (contemplation) is attained. The excellence of the practice (sadhana) lies in not giving room for even a single mental concept (vritti). 17. What are the rules of conduct which an aspirant (sadhaka) should follow? Moderation in food, moderation in sleep and moderation in speech. 18.Abhyasa: How long should one practise? Until the mind attains effortlessly its natural state of freedom from concepts, that is till the sense of ‘I’ and ‘mine’ exists no longer. 19. What is the meaning of dwelling in solitude (ekanta vasa)? As the Self is all-pervasive it has no particular place for solitude. The state of being free from mental concepts is called ‘dwelling in solitude’. 20. What is the sign of wisdom (viveka)? Its beauty lies in remaining free from delusion after realising the truth once. There is fear only for one who sees at least a slight difference in the Supreme Brahman. So long as there is the idea that the body is the Self one cannot be a realizer of truth whoever he might be.

21. If everything happens according to karma (prarabdha, the result of one’s acts in the past) how is one to overcome the obstacles to meditation (dhyana)? Prarabdha concerns only the out-turned, not the in-turned mind. Abhyasa: One who seeks his real Self will not be afraid of any obstacle. 22. Is asceticism (sannyasa) one of the essential requisites for a person to become established in the Self (atma nishta)? The effort that is made to get rid of attachment to one’s body is really towards abiding in the Self.Abhyasa:Maturity of thought and enquiry alone removes attachment to the body,Abhyasa: not the stations of life (ashramas), such as student (brahmachari), etc. For the attachment is in the mind while the stations pertain to the body. How can bodily stations remove the attachment in the mind? As maturity of thought and enquiry pertain to the mind these alone can, by enquiry on the part of the same mind, remove the attachments which have crept into it through thoughtlessness. But, as the discipline of asceticism (sannyasashrama) is the means for attaining dispassion (vairagya), and as dispassion is the means for enquiry, joining an order of ascetics may be regarded, in a way, as a means of enquiry through dispassion. Instead of wasting one’s life by entering the order of ascetics before one is fit for it, it is better to live the householder’s life. In order to fix the mind in the Self which is its true nature it is necessary to separate it from the family of fancies (sankalpas) and doubts (vikalpas), that is to renounce the family (samsara) in the mind. This is real asceticism. 23. It is an established rule that so long as there is the least idea of I-am-the-doer, Self-knowledge cannot be attained, but is it possible for an aspirant who is a householder to discharge his duties properly without this sense? As there is no rule that action should depend upon a sense of being the doer it is unnecessary to doubt whether any action will take place without a doer or an act of doing. Although the officer of a government treasury may appear, in the eyes of others, to be doing his duty attentively and responsibly all day long, he will be discharging his duties without attachment, thinking ‘I have no real connection with all this money’ and without a sense of involvement in his mind. In the same manner a wise householder may also discharge without attachment the various household duties which fall to his lot according to his past karma, like a tool in the hands of another. Action and knowledge are not obstacles to each other. 24. Abhyasa:Of what use to his family is a wise householder who is unmindful of his bodily comforts and of what use is his family to him? Although he is entirely unmindful of his bodily comforts, if, owing to his past karma, his family have to subsist by his efforts, he may be regarded as doing service to others. If it is asked whether the wise man derives any benefit from the discharge of domestic duties, it may be answered that, as he has already attained the state of complete satisfaction which is the sum total of all benefits and the highest good of all, he does not stand to gain anything more by discharging family duties. 25. How can cessation of activity (nivritti) and peace of mind be attained in the midst of household duties which are of the nature of constant activity? As the activities of the wise man exist only in the eyes of others and not in his own, although he may be accomplishing immense tasks, he really does nothing. Therefore his activities do not stand in the way of inaction and peace of mind. For he knows the truth that all activities take place in his mere presence and that he does nothing. Hence he will remain as the silent witness of all the activities taking place.

26.Abhyasa: Just as the sage’s past karma is the cause of his present activities will not the impressions (vasanas) caused by his present activities adhere to him in future? Only one who is free from all the latent tendencies (vasanas) is a sage. That being so how can the tendencies of karma affect him who is entirely unattached to activity? 27. What is the meaning of brahmacharya? Only enquiry into Brahman should be called brahmacharya. 28.Abhyasa:Will the practice of brahmacharya which is followed in conformity with the (four) orders of life (ashramas) be a means of knowledge? As the various means of knowledge, such as control of senses, etc., are included in brahmacharya the virtuous practices duly followed by those who belong to the order of students (brahmacharins) are very helpful for their improvement. 29.Abhyasa: Can one enter the order of ascetics (sanyasa) directly from the order of students (brahmacharya)? Those who are competent need not formally enter the orders of brahmacharya, etc., in the order laid down. One who has realized his Self does not distinguish between the various orders of life. Therefore no order of life either helps or hinders him. 30.Abhyasa:Does an aspirant (sadhaka) lose anything by not observing the rules of caste and orders of life? As the attainment (anusthana, lit. practice) of knowledge is the supreme end of all other practices, there is no rule that one who remains in any one order of life and constantly acquires knowledge is bound to follow the rules laid down for that order of life. If he follows the rules of caste and orders of life he does so for the good of the world. Abhyasa:He does not derive any benefit by observing the rules. Nor does he lose anything by not observing them.

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