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SITA DEY writes of Adi Shankara’s teachings on ways to overcome ignorance and gain knowledge of life — that is, liberation from darkness to light
According to Shankara the entire world of manifestation and multiplicity is not real in itself and seems to be real for those who live in ignorance. To be caught in ignorance is the bondage in which we are implicated. Only the wisdom that the universal reality and the individual self are identical, can bring us redemption. When this wisdom arises, the ego is dissolved, the unreal cosmic process ceases and there is perfect joy and blessedness.
Jiva is ever mukta. Liberation is nothing more than the removal of avidya which veils the nature of jiva. Emancipation is not produced, it is forever established. To be mukta means to become Brahmn, which the jiva already is. Brahmn is nothing but pure knowledge and bliss. Brahmajnana or Brahmananda being permanent, cannot be an effect, because that which is produced is temporary. Because the jiva is avidya pohita, he forgets this. A boy forgets that he has a necklace on his person. His superior points out that, the necklace which he is searching for, is around his own neck; and the boy gets back the necklace. This sort of realisation is realisation of Brahmn. So it is said that liberation is the attainment of that which has been already attained. Before liberation all this was not clear to him as he had avidya; with Brahmajnana which is the realisation of one’s own nature, the jiva removes and destroys the ajnana forever.
According to Shankara, bondage is due to avidya and can only be removed by jnana, vidya or right knowledge. Knowledge of the nature of the highest reality leads to moksha, once bondage is removed. All pains and sufferings come to an end, and as a result, the self dwells in infinite bliss. Jiva merges into Anandamaya. Even the gross body is due to avidya. Once this avidya is destroyed, there is no possibility of the self re-entering into any new gross body. The self becomes free from the cycles of birth and death.
The means of escaping this endless samsara are furnished by the Vedas. The Karmakanda indeed, whose purpose is to enjoy certain action cannot lead to final release, for even the most meritorious works necessarily lead to new forms of embodied existence. In the Jnanakanda, there are two parts, the passage which treats Brahmn, in so far as it is related to the world and characterised by various attributes, Saguna Brahmn and the text, which describe the nature of the highest Brahmn — transcending all qualities and the fundamental identity of the individual soul and merging with the highest Brahmn. Devoted meditation of Saguna Brahmn does not lead to final emancipation. The worshipper passes on into the world of lower Brahmn only, where he continues to exist as a distinct individual soul. There he enjoys great power and acquires knowledge until he, at last, reaches the highest knowledge and through it, final release. The student of the Vedas, obtains at the moment of death, immediate final release. He withdraws from the influence of maya and asserts himself in his true nature, that is Brahmn.
Shankara said those who should follow the injunction of the Vedas and perform Vedic rites, belong to a lower classs. When the karmins succeed in purging their minds of all desires and want to know the Truth alone, they enter the jnanamarga and have no duties to perform. The man who desires emancipation must study all the Vedas with the agamas.
He must perform nitya and naimittika karmas. He should have the following sadhanas.
1. Discriminate between eternal and non-eternal substance.
2. Renunciation of enjoyment of the reward here and in the other worlds, hereafter.
3. He should have the moral discipline like sama, dama, uparati, titiksha, shraddha, sadhana, mumukshata….
Two more means of furthering knowledge are work and meditation. Work includes the study of Vedas, sacrifice, alms, penance, and fasting. These are to be practised till knowledge is gained. In contrast to these, tranquility, renunciation, restraint, resignation and concentration continue to exist, even though knowledge is attained.
Pious meditation serves as a means of knowledge. It consists of the devoted consideration of the words of scripture — Tatvamasi.
A man being purged of all impurities of the mind becomes an adhikari for Brahmavidya. Then he has to approach the preceptor who instructs him That are Thou. This is shravana or hearing. Then comes the stage of manana — to understand the instruction of the guru through reasoning, until all doubts are removed and conviction ensues.
Next, comes the stage of nididhyasana, in which the disciple repeatedly meditates and concentrates on that truth, which he accepts from the guru. This stage finally and automatically culminates into Sakshatkara, the immediate experience of Brahmn. At once he becomes the Truth that is pure existence, consciousness and bliss.