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Know Thyself is a powerful expression of the essence of 'Atamshatakam', a classic work of Advaita Vedanta, written by Adi Shankaracharya, expounded in a .
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There is some controversy over the extent to which Gaudapada was influenced by Buddhism. Gaudapada uses intellectual arguments and images directly drawn from Buddhist sources to construct his philosophy. While traditional Vedantins must admit these parallels, they maintain that he merely was merely using common content from the contemporary discussion to make his own, original point. This is not really necessary, since the Buddha was probably drawing from these Upanishads himself, as we have seen.
Shankara was born in India probably sometime in theeighth century when Hinduism had been in decline for many centuries. A childhood prodigy in Sanskrit and the ancient scriptures, Shankara left home early and found his guru Govinda, a student of Gaudapada , who taught him the basics of Advaita. From that point onward, Shankara was unstoppable, walking the length and breadth of India to teach Advaita, reform what he saw as degenerate practices, debate with religious scholars, and re-ignite interest in Hinduism among the Indian populace.
His many writings, charismatic personality, and dedication to the cause revitalized what had been a religion in decline. More importantly for our discussion, however, Shankara recast much of Hindu religion in a nondual mold. Nondualism became an underlying perspective on old practices and traditions. Even the many gods were seen to exist as part of the play of maya, just more manifestations of Brahman.
The Philosophy of Advaita Vedanta Shankara summarized his entire philosophy of Advaita in a single, pithy sentence: This, in a nutshell, is Advaita Vedanta. Shankara states that Brahman is the one and only reality, the one existence, the one without a second.
- First, Know Yourself as Soul.
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It is pure consciousness, free from any taint, beginningless and endless. It is joy, forever beyond the reach of pain, indivisible, immeasurable, formless, nameless, immutable. Although such words are all attempts at describing Brahman, the highest Brahman is actually completely without any attributes whatsoever. The soul atman is not some small part of Brahman that eventually merges back into Brahman.
The soul is actually the entirety of Brahman. According to Shankara unlike in the Western religions, and some forms of Hinduism , each person does not have a unique, individual soul that then returns to Brahman upon enlightenment or death. Instead there is no individual soul whatsoever. There is only one Atman, and it is identical with Brahman. The false idea that there are many souls arises from the tricks of maya.
Individuals jiva live in a state of ignorance in a body with senses, which causes the delusion that we feel as if we have an individual soul. They seem to just be different names for the same idea. For his part, Shankara vehemently denied this. He was an erudite philosopher, and used his extensive knowledge of Buddhism to show the differences between his teachings and the Buddhist view. A review of these differences, however, quickly shows them to be in my opinion very minor.
Call it Brahman or Buddha-nature, it is nondual awareness either way. We see that there is absolutely no difference, that they are one and the same. There are several well-known Advaita techniques for achieving liberation. Probably the most famous traditional practice is that of neti-neti. This is done as an active, phenomenological inquiry, not the rote repetition of a mantra. Whatever arises is seen to be the product of maya, of something other than perfect, nondual awareness.
It is just an illusion. This practice functions as a kind of pointing out instruction that constantly draws attention to awareness itself, rather than the object of awareness. There is a fascinating story about the Advaita practices of Ramakrishna, probably the most famous Indian saint of thenineteenth Century.
Know Thyself - Shankracharya's timeless wisdom
At the time of the story, Ramakrishna was already a master of dualistic mysticism, fully steeped in the meditation of the Goddess Kali. Nevertheless he agreed to receive the Advaita teachings from a wandering, naked, ash-besmeared master of nondualism named Totapuri. Totapuri regarded all forms of worship, so dear to Ramakrishna, as childish and ridiculous. He instructed Ramakrishna the basics of Advaita Vedanta, saying:. Though apparently divided by names and forms through the inscrutable power of maya, that enchantress who makes the impossible possible, Brahman is really One and undivided.
When a seeker merges in the beatitude of samadhi, he does not perceive time and space or name and form, the offspring of maya. Whatever is within the domain of maya is unreal. Destroy the prisonhouse of name and form and rush out of it with the strength of a lion.
Dive deep in search of the Self and realize It through samadhi. You will find the world of name and form vanishing into void, and the puny ego dissolving in Brahman-Consciousness. He also taught Ramakrishna the practice of formless meditation technically different than nondual meditation, but nevertheless a major step in that direction , but that first night as Ramakrishna sat to meditate, he was immediately lost in dualistic absorption of the Goddess Kali.
My last barrier has fallen away. This is the seat of the Shankaracharya of Jyothir Math high in the Himalayas in India, where Maharishi studied with his teacher, Guru Dev, from to Sali Peden was fortunate to have traveled back to Uttar Kashi with Maharishi and a small group of people. Here is her memory of that special time in a poem. We reached the hill station, worn from dusty heat and endless mountain curves, just as dusk descended. Far in the hills below, the river, where Shankara once bathed, traced a thin course through the valley.
The ashram, quiet, still etched against the hills in the fading light— looked ancient, removed from time. We moved in the breath of the greatest ones, their presence, lively still. Brilliant solemnity, our ancient longings fulfilled. I copied a few thoughtful and instructive ones: Raise your words, not voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder. You are not just the drop in the ocean.
You are the mighty ocean in the drop. I found this beautiful traditional prayer song from Ghana, and photo, posted in the Panhala Archive. The translator is unknown. Timeless Journey We reached the hill station, worn from dusty heat and endless mountain curves, just as dusk descended. The soul, in essence the reflection of Spirit, never undergoes the pangs of birth nor the throes of death. Nor having once been projected from the womb of immortal Spirit will Prince Soul, on return to Spirit, lose its individuality; having entered the portals of nativity, its existence will never cease.
In all its bodily births, the Spirit-soul never felt birth; it exists everlastingly, untouched by the maya-magic fingers of change. It is ever the same—now, past, future—as it has always been; ageless, unchanged, since its immemorial beginnings. The deathless soul dwelling in the destructible body is ever constant through all cycles of bodily disintegrations; it does not taste death even when the body quaffs that fatal cup of hemlock.
Do not think of yourself as the body, but as the joyous consciousness and immortal life behind it.
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You can consciously know your soul—your true self—by meditation. And when you know yourself as soul you will have discovered the presence of God within you. All great teachers declare that within this body is the immortal soul, a spark of That which sustains all. He who knows his soul knows this truth: I am the stars, I am the waves, I am the Life of all; I am the laughter within all hearts, I am the smile on the faces of flowers and in each soul.
I am the Wisdom and Power that sustain all creation. By the transcendental way [ by the deep esoteric meditation ] you realize all the things you are not, and discover That which you are:. I am not the mind or feeling. I am That which is behind the breath, body, mind, and feeling.