Obstacles for Spritual Progress – I
We have discussed some aspects of this before. We present here some of obstacles that have been identified in the scriptures as well as by other aachaaryaas. Krishna says in Gita- 4th chapter that there are three main obstacles for spiritual progress: – 1. avidya (ignorance) 2. ashraddha (lack of faith) 3. samshaya (doubts about the goal and the means).
ajnascha ashraddadhAnascha samshayAtmA vinashyati|
nAyam loko2sti na paraH na sukham samshayAtmanaH|| 4-40
Again in the 9th chapter He mentions:
ashraddhadhAnAH puruShA dharmasyAsya parantapa|
aprApya mAm nivartante mRityusamsAravartmani|| -9:3
Shankara explains the ashraddadhAnAH as the ones who do not have shraddhA on the aatma jnaam, that is, the one who does not have faith in the knowledge of the self that includes both in understanding its nature, means of gaining that knowledge and the result of that understanding. Krishna says they will never reach Me; instead they will be born again and again. Those who have doubts about the nature and the means of reality will neither gain the highest nor can they enjoy the benefits in the material worlds. Hence lack of Shraddhaa or faith and having doubts about the nature of the truth, nature of the means of gaining that knowledge (doubts about pramaaNa) will go down the drain that involves taking lower and lower births. Implication is they will be living life trying to fulfill only the sensuous enjoyments, and in the process accumulate more vaasanaas where they will be taking life forms that live at sense level only to exhaust those vaasanaas.
In the above sloka, ajnAnam stands for mUla avidya – the fundamental ignorance – which is the lack of knowledge of my own nature. That is ignorance that I am complete or pUrNam, or I am of the nature of pure unqualified happiness or ananda swaruupa. I know that I am a conscious entity. I also know that I am existent entity – no scripture is needed to teach me those. However, I do not know that I am of the nature of happiness too or ananda swaruupa or limitlessness. Hence, I am not looking for existence, nor looking for consciousness, but looking for my happiness all the time. Limitlessness is happiness. It is not qualified happiness which I get when I find I am happier with the object of my desire and otherwise not. This is desire fulfilled happiness or qualified happiness. Everybody’s happiness, including that of the first born, the Hiranyagarba, is qualified happiness only, which is experiential happiness, as discussed in Tai. Up. In the happiness scale, the Upanishad says Hiranyagarbha’s happiness is 1 x 1023 times that of an ideal human being, who in his prime youth and who owns the whole world. This experiential happiness is still limited. However, pure happiness is limitless, unqualified, and it is my intrinsic nature, says Vedanta. Nevertheless, all human efforts can be reduced to gain one essential thing -absolute, inexhaustible, permanent happiness. That can be accomplished only by gaining infinite limitlessness. Limitlessness cannot be gained by any effort or pursuit. It can only be gained by knowing that I am already the limitless. Due to ignorance of my true nature, I take myself that I am limited being. Even though I know I am existent, I take myself to be of limited existence – although existence by nature is limitless. Limited existence involves taking existence itself as a qualified existence, that is, I exist as this; this being primarily the gross body, sthuula shariira, which is most tangible, and next I take myself as I am the mind and then the intellect, put together as the subtle body, and finally I take myself as I am the causal body, kaaraNa shariira. By taking myself that I am a limited body, mind and intellect, BMI, the limitations of the body, mind and intellect become my limitations. This is the error of superimposition where the limitations of the BMI are superimposed on the limitless existence-consciousness that I am. Since my true nature is limitlessness, I cannot readily accept the limitations, since they are not intrinsic to my nature. With the identification of the limitations of the BMI, I take myself to be a mortal, as the birth and death is related to Body, and I consider myself to be unhappy due to the likes and dislikes associated with the mind, and I consider myself to be ignorant of the world of objects. BMI by nature is limited. The limited BMI can never become unlimited by any process, as the process by themselves are limited. Hence all the pursuits in life, expressed in terms of 1. PravRitti – efforts to gain all that I do not have and like to have and 2. nivRitti, efforts to loose all that I have and do not like to have, will fail miserably. The specific efforts may be different from individual to individual, due to the differences in the likes and dislikes; but in essence the life struggles are essentially remain the same; the combination of pravRitti and nivRitti. Hence we pray – asatoma sadgamaya – Oh Lord please lead me from non-existence to existence, tamasoma jyotirgamaya, Oh Lord please lead me from ignorance to knowledge, and mRityorma amRitam gamaya – Oh Lord please lead me from mortality to immortality. In essence, all these prayers by themselves are useless, since we are requesting the Lord to solve a problem where there is no problem to begin with. That which is born has to die, declares the Lord, jaatasyahi dRivo mRityuH. Therefore, the body that is born has to die someday or the other. Hence that which is mortal can never become immortal. Thus the prayer – Oh Lord, please lead me from mortality to immortality cannot be fulfilled. That I am a mortal is only a notion arising due to identification with the body. All notions arise because of ignorance. Hence the prayer –mRityorma amRitam gamaya – lead me from mortality to immortality should imply that Oh Lord| please lead me from the notion that I am mortal to the truth that I am immortal. Thus all prayers are ultimately for the elimination of ignorance about oneself. No ignorance can be removed by prayers; it can only be removed by appropriate knowledge. Therefore ignorance of the self can only be removed by the self-knowledge. Since it is not objective knowledge the normal means of gaining the knowledge will not work. Why do I need self-knowledge? It is because I am looking for eternal, inexhaustible or limitless happiness, which cannot be gained by any effort.
In addition, since all our efforts, pravRitti or nivRitti, by definition, are finite; they cannot give infinite results. Limitless or infiniteness alone is fulfillment of life and it is freedom from all limitations and is therefore moksha. It can not be gained by any effort, neither can it be given. Hence all human struggles to solve their limitation problem remain useless. One cannot become limitless by any, or sum of all limited efforts. The compassionate Lord, out of compassion, has to come in some form, to teach the devotee to redirect his mental attention from all his efforts of pravRitti and nivRitti to obtain clear understanding of ones own true nature. Hence Krishna declares that of all efforts or yagnas, the effort to gain the knowledge of ones own self is the highest, since by gaining the knowledge one looses the wrong identification of oneself. To gain that knowledge, Krishna says, one has to approach a proper teacher who is well versed in the Shaastras, able to communicate that knowledge and who himself is well established in that reality.
tat viddhi praNipaatena pariprashnena sevayaa| 4-34.
Shankara gives the meaning for praNipaata – as the one who prostrates falling at the feet of the teacher – pariprashnena by asking the appropriate or relevant questions to the teacher such as -what is bondage? What is liberation? What is the nature of ignorance, and what is the knowledge required, etc. For such a prepared student who asks relevant questions, the teacher is obligated to teach the knowledge, since he himself obtained that knowledge by approaching his teacher.
Hence limitlessness or moksha is not something that can be gained, or can it be given. It is not that some place that I have to go after the death of this body, such as vaikunTa or kailaasa with some pure saatvic material body different from this, etc. These are all concepts of dvaita-based philosophies where there are differences and hierarchies among jiivas, with Lord and inert world existing as different from jiivas. With inherent limitations I cannot have limitlessness or freedom from all limitations. Moksha is, then, recognition of my own true nature, which is limitlessness or puurNam or ananda swaruupam – which is Brahman. The scripture defines Brahman as satyam, jnaanam and anantam. These are not properties of Brahman but intrinsic nature of Brahman.
Hence the greatest obstacle for moksha is ignorance which can be removed only knowledge and by nothing else. Knowledge does not depend on individual effort; that is one cannot will the knowledge. It requires a frame of mind conducive for gaining the knowledge. Hence Shankara says – a prepared mind for this is that which has saadhana chatuShTaya sampatti or the mind which has the four fold qualifications; viveka (intellect that can discriminate that which is eternal from ephemeral), vairaagra (dispassion to reject the ephemeral), shamaadi shatkasapaati (mental and sense control, faith, commitment, equanimity, etc), and mumukshutvam (strong desire for liberation). There are preparatory of the mind in order for it to appreciate the mahaavaakya, tat tvam asi, statement of the Vedanta.
We will discuss next role of shraddhaa in the self-knowledge.