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Who Am I? Exploring Vedanta

The Path of Vedanta

Pre-Requisites

The path of Advaita Vedanta begins with three pre-requisites, which some of us have, and some of us will eventually have. As Shankaracharya states, having all three is quite rare. The three pre-requisites are:

    A human birth
    A longing for liberation
    Discipleship to an enlightened teacher

It’s clear we all have the first, a human birth. What about the second, longing for liberation? It seems to me that at some point we all reach that. We finally get tired of chasing the rainbow that never comes, or having yet one more fantasy shattered, or perhaps it comes during illness. If we are lucky, some time in our life something in us cries out, “I want to know the truth. I know that life is more than pointless suffering, more than a succession of changes that have no purpose.” The longing for liberation is likened to how much a man wants air when his head is being held under water. Here’s how my teacher Swami Muktananda put it:

Only one in a thousand people has the desire to know the Self and the Supreme principle. But when the virtues of many lifetimes have accumulated, one is filled with a burning longing to know that, and this great longing makes one set out in search of a Guru.(1)

That leads to the third pre-requisite. Advaita Vedanta is not a self-help path. It is not one you learn from a book. It requires devotion to the goal and discipleship. And the teacher is not just a teacher, but a fully enlightened one. Shankaracharya describes the qualifications of a teacher precisely, and comments:

There are pure souls who attained peace and greatness. They bring good to mankind, like the coming of spring. They themselves have crossed samsara. Without any selfish motive, they help others to cross.(2)

The Path Itself

So we see the prereqs: a human birth, longing for liberation and then a teacher. But what is the path?  Shankaracharya’s text Viveka Chudamani, or Crest Jewel of Discrimination lays out a four-step path. I’ll list each step, and then we will work with just the first, which one of the key practices. The hallmark of each of the steps is that they involve the use of Jnana – knowledge or intellect. So Vedanta differs from paths which rely primarily on say, karma, or work, or bhakti, devotion. Not that these are not included, but the primary means for knowing and experience the truth is through a sharpened intellect.

The four-fold path of Advaita Vedanta is known as Sadhana Chatustaya, (path of four steps) and has these elements:

1. Discrimination (or Viveka)
2. Detachment (Dispassion, Renunciation) (Vairagya)
3. Development of 6 main qualities
    a. Tranquility
    b. Self Control
    c. Withdrawal of the senses from objects
    d. Forbearance, tolerance of the pairs of opposites
    e. Faith
    f. Self-settledness, or constant concentration on Brahman
4. Longing for Liberation (mumukshutva).

It is important to look more closely at discrimination. Through the development of discrimination all the rest follow. Without discrimination, the rest of the steps have no meaning.

Next: The Practice of Discrimination

Notes:
(1) The Perfect Relationship page 1
(2) Crest Jewel of Discrimination (v 37-38, pg 16 in VC)

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Who am I? Exploring Vedanta

Introduction

My personal experience

Origins and Definitions

Teachings of Vedanta

Path of Vedanta

Practice of Discrimination

Results of the Practice

Devotion and Grace

Recommended Reading