More on Spiritual Practice

By Rudra Shivananda

Previously, I’d introduced the first two of the five verses given by the great Shankaracharya for the spiritual practice  according to the vedantic tradition. Let’s examine the third verse:

Now, reflect on the essence of the mahavakyas from the Upanishads only

Stop all unnecessary discussions or speculations and focus only on revealed wisdom

Remain absorbed in the attitude of “I am Brahman”

Renounce feelings of pride and arrogance

Give up the identification with the body

Give up argumentation with the sages


Rudra Shivananda

The second verse ended with the spiritual aspirant established as the student of a sage and learning at the feet of his Master. When he has learned all that can be learned from the teachings of his preceptor, then it is time for the student to reflect on what has been transmitted. This would typically be the great sayings of the philosophical treatises called the Upanishads which have been sanctioned by generations of sages and shown to lead to the experience of the divine union with one’s true Self. The great sayings are called mahavakyas – an example is “Aham Brahmasmi” or “God and I, me and God, are one.”

There is a tendency for the student to get side-tracked into other philosophical debates or speculations which are not central to his realization and this must be avoided in order not to waste time and resources. One should remain steadfast in one’s contemplation.

All the mahavakyas and indeed all the Upanishads are meant to lead to the realization that the soul is spirit and spirit and God are one. In order to achieve this realization, it is necessary to make an adjustment in our attitudes towards one another and towards the world – we cannot act in a manner inconsistent with this teaching and so we cannot act selfishly or in an ordinary manner but would have to “love one’s neighbor as one-Self.”

When one has an attitude of being united with the divine, there is a tendency to be touched by pride and arrogance, however subtly and this has to be avoided and consciously renounced.

The cause of suffering is our disunity from our true nature and subsequent identification with the body. This physical nature is all that we can know with our five senses and so we have grown to think that it is all there is to reality and therefore we must be our physical body. Together with the right attitude of identifying with the divine is the giving
up of the wrong attitude of thinking we are the body.

Once we are established in the right attitude and renounced erroneous ones, we begin to achieve the actual experience of the unity that we have previously only intellectually understood.

As we start to glimpse reality, there is a tendency to start sharing with others the truths that we are now convinced that we know. This can lead to confusion and subtle errors because only when we are fully established in wisdom do we realize that reality cannot be discussed or argued upon as it is beyond our normal consciousness and language.

Reality is neither dual or non-dual or combination of both. In higher consciousness, we can experience reality as it is but when we come down to the relative world, where something either exists or not exists, all concepts fail to adequately describe it and so there can be no end to dispute. The normal mind is not equipped to deal with reality, only with a four dimensional spacetime splice of reality. Shankaracharya therefore counsels that against arguing with sages.

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