The Non-Duality of Shri Shankara
Further extracts from H P Shastri’s essay on the Outline of the Advaita of Shri Shankara
The philosophy expounded by Shri Shankara is not rationalism like the philosophy of Descartes or Spinoza. It is a metaphysical ontology which has no peer in Western thought. The way to be established mentally in the truth of the non-dual philosophy is to reason deeply about what you have learnt from the teachings; but eventually this deeper intellectual knowledge is to be converted into experience through the process called nididhyasana or contemplation.
By reading the Upanishads and kindred texts over and over, with faith and concentrated attention, one comes to grasp their meaning. By daily reflection and meditation this meaning takes root in the intellect, and by ceaseless contemplation the subject-matter of the Upanishads (Shruti) becomes our direct experience. The experience of the nature of Self as Sat- Chit-Ananda—existence-consciousness-bliss—is an experience of the Self and not of the mind. As Self, or Atman, is the support of all phases of experience, it follows that the experience of Self does not depend on any other thing.
The experience of Self is obtained through the Self in the Self, above the mind and the intellect. It is not subject to the realm of cause and effect, nor is this experience the result of any particular process. The product of high ethical living is converted in the end into the light of Self. The mind acquires the heat, so to say, through the ethical process of devotion and self-sacrifice, but the light of non-dual experience is above all. Mere shravana (listening) and manana (cogitation) cannot give rise to the experience of Self in the Self itself. Fire is not a modification of heat but it is the culmination of heat. The same applies to the experience of reality. The new light is created in our inner being which converts the whole conception of Self into the infinity of Sat-Chit-Ananda.
It may be noted that Shankara holds that non-dual cognition is not the direct result of a particular method or discipline. The Self is ever-achieved, but to make the ever-achieved a realised experience we need methods of meditation and discipline, which slowly remove the covering of nescience. As long as a fire is not kindled, we rub pieces of wood together, but when the fire is kindled, the process is given up. The experience of the sages, expressed in the classical writings, is that Truth is grasped through deep inner communion.
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This article is from the Winter 2024 issue of Self-Knowledge Journal.