Adi Shankara

Adi Shankara (788-820)

In this treatise, the sage Adi Shankara corrects certain monastic disciplines by taking accepted names and giving them an entirely different definition.  This kept intact the structure of the discipline, e.g., “the fifteen steps,” while introducing new practices.  He begins by stating that control of the senses does not mean blocking out the world, but seeing it all as Brahman: this is known as the Middle Way in Buddhism.  He then explains that real renunciation is not to give up material comforts but to perceive the illusory universe as the all-conscious Atman.  Likewise, the real silence is not attained by vows of silence, the true posture and equipoise are not attained by contorting the body, directing one’s vision does not mean crossing the eyes, and correct breathing is not holding the breath.  This last instruction is a repudiation of Kriya Yoga, which was brought to the West by Yogananda.

100. Now, for the attainment of the aforesaid (knowledge), I shall expound the fifteen steps by the aid of which one should practice profound meditation at all times.

101. The Atman that is absolute existence and knowledge cannot be realized without constant practice; therefore one seeking after knowledge should long meditate upon Brahman for the attainment of the desired goal.

102-103. The steps, in order, are as follows: control of the senses, control of the mind, renunciation, silence, space, time, posture, the restraining root (Mulabandha), equipoise of the body, firmness of vision, control of the vital forces, withdrawal of the mind, concentration, self-contemplation and complete absorption.

104. The restraint of all the senses by means of such knowledge as “All this is Brahman” is rightly called Yama, which should be practiced again and again.

105. The continuous flow of only one kind of thought to the exclusion of all other thoughts is called Niyama, which is verily the supreme bliss and is regularly practiced by the wise.

106. The abandonment of the illusory universe by perceiving it as the all-conscious Atman is the real renunciation honored by the great, since it is of the nature of immediate liberation.

107. The wise should always be one with that silence from which words, together with the mind, turn back without reaching it, but which is attainable by the Yogins.

108-109. Who can describe That from which words turn away? Or if the phenomenal world were to be described, even that is beyond words. This, to give an alternate definition, may also be called “silence known among the sages as present from the beginning.” The observance of silence by restraining speech, on the other hand, is ordained by the teachers of Brahman for the ignorant.

110. That oneness is known as “space,” wherein the universe does not exist in the beginning, end or middle, but whereby the universe is pervaded at all times.

111. The non-dual that is bliss indivisible is denoted by the word “time,” since it brings into existence, in the twinkling of an eye, all beings from Brahman downwards.

112. One should know as true posture (Asana) that in which the meditation on Brahman flows spontaneously and unceasingly, and not any other that destroys one’s happiness.1

113. That which is known as the origin of all beings and the support of the whole universe, which is immutable, and in which the enlightened are completely merged, that alone is known as Siddhasana (eternal Brahman).

114. That which is the root of all existence, and on which the restraint of the mind is based, is called the Restraining Root (Mulabandha), which should always be adopted since it is fit for Raja-yogins.

115. Absorption in the uniform and ever-balanced Brahman brings about true balance and equipoise of the limbs and body (Dehasamya). Without this, mere straightening and stretching of the body like a dried-up tree is no equipoise at all.2

116. Converting the ordinary view into one of knowledge, one should view the world as Brahman itself. That is the noblest view; it is not to focus the eyes on the spot where the nose begins.

117. Or, one should direct one’s vision to That alone, where all distinction of seer, sight, and that which is seen ceases; do not direct it to the spot where the nose begins.

118. The restraint of all changing states of the mind by regarding all mental states, like the Citta (the mind), as Brahman alone, is called Pranayama (breath suppression).

119-120. The negation of the phenomenal world is known as Rechaka (breathing out); the thought, “I am verily Brahman,” is called Puraka (breathing in); and the holding of that thought thereafter is called Kumbhaka (holding the breath). This is the real course of Pranayama for the enlightened, whereas the ignorant only torture the nose (by holding the breath).

121. The absorption of the mind in the Supreme Consciousness by realizing Atman in all objects is known as Pratyahara (withdrawal of the mind), which should be practiced by the seekers after liberation.

122. The steadiness of the mind through realization of Brahman wherever the mind goes is known as the supreme Dharana (concentration).

123. Remaining independent of everything as a result of the unassailable thought, “I am verily Brahman,” is known by the word Dhyana (meditation), and is productive of supreme bliss.

124. The complete forgetting of all thought by first making it immutable and then identifying it with Brahman is called Samadhi (concentration), known also as Prajna.

125. The aspirant should carefully practice this (meditation) that reveals his natural bliss until, being under his full control, it arises spontaneously in an instant whenever called into action.

126. Then he, the best among Yogis for having attained perfection, becomes free from all practices. The real nature of such a man never becomes an object of the mind or speech.

127-128. While practicing Samadhi (concentration) there appear unavoidably many obstacles, such as lack of inquiry, idleness, desire for sense-pleasure, sleep, dullness, distraction, tasting of joy, and the sense of blankness. One desiring the knowledge of Brahman should slowly get rid of these many obstacles.

129. While meditating on an object the mind identifies itself with that object, and while meditating on a void it becomes blank, whereas by meditating on Brahman it attains to perfection. Therefore one should constantly meditate on perfection.

130. Those who give up this supremely purifying thought of Brahman live in vain and are on the same level with beasts.

131. Blessed indeed are those virtuous persons who at first have this consciousness of Brahman and then develop it more and more. They are respected everywhere.

132. Only those in whom this consciousness, being ever present, grows into maturity attain to the state of ever-present Brahman, and not others who merely deal with words.

133. Also, those persons who are only clever in talking about Brahman but have no realization, who are very much attached to worldly pleasures, are born and die again and again in consequence of their ignorance.

134. The aspirants after Brahman should not remain a single moment without the thought of Brahman.

135. The nature of the cause inheres in the effect and not vice versa; so through reasoning it is found that in the absence of the effect, the cause as such also disappears. [When the illusory world disappears, one’s mind also disappears, since the world and one’s mind are one and the same thing.]

136. Then that pure Reality which is beyond speech alone remains.

137. In this way alone there arises in the pure-minded a state of awareness, which is afterwards merged into Brahman.

138. One should first look for the cause [the mind] by the negative method [emptiness] and then find it by the positive method [phenomena], as ever inherent in the effect.

139. One should verily see the cause in the effect [i.e., see one’s mind in all phenomena], and then dismiss the effect altogether. What then remains, the sage himself becomes.

140. A person who meditates upon a thing with great assiduity and firm conviction becomes that very thing.

141. The wise should always think with great care of the invisible, the visible and everything else as his own Self, which is Consciousness itself.

142. Having reduced the visible to the invisible, the wise one should think of the universe as one with Brahman. Thus alone will he abide in eternal felicity with mind full of consciousness and bliss.

1. In this section (112-120) Shankara redefines the practices of Asana and Pranayama (postures and breath suppression) so that the focus is on the cultivation of the mind, not on the body. “True Posture” is not a physical posture at all, but a mental state of uninterrupted samadhi, or absorption.

2. “True balance and equipoise of the limbs” is achieved by absorption in Brahman.

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