Adi Shankara’s Stages of Upasana Explained

Sadhana Stages

Is Philosophy a ‘Negative’ Term?

Many people are confused between the terms knowledge and wisdom. But, the word Philosophy is even more confusing. To add to the existing confusion many people use the word philosophy in a negative sense. If you cannot understand someone, you tend to say “Don’t talk philosophy” or you say “Don’t philosophize your wrong-doings.” This is the irony.

To begin with, let us decode the meaning of these words.

What is Information Different from Knowledge?

When data is ordered and meaningfully conveyed, it is information. Most people collect information. Processing information clearly in the mind and deliberating upon it can give us meaningful insights. This insight is knowledge. Information may be, at most times not be of any use, until it turns into a reservoir of knowledge.

When knowledge is deliberated and delivered in the most practical way, it becomes wisdom. Very few people manage to complete this conversion from knowledge to wisdom. Wisdom comes with deliberation and sets realizations in a person. They are unique and sprout from the person’s experience.

Wisdom and Philosophy

When this wisdom matures, it becomes capable of changing the way civilization existed. This becomes philosophy. The three greatest philosophers who delivered to the world methodologies to achieve the highest possibilities within consciousness are undoubtedly Adi Shankara, Sri Ramanujacharya and Sri Madhwacharya. Their works remain unparalleled and serve as a beacon to the world. They show us the path in millennia to come. Sri Adi Shankara can be regarded as the pioneer of modern thought and his Advaita philosophy rules till this day.

How does Adi Shankara Conclude that the World is Unreal?

The mind is where doubts crop up as it is connected to the sensory organs that collect data, for the mind to process. Sensory organs tend to cheat us, exaggerate facts, prone to errors and cannot calibrate themselves. So, to start with, the senses cheat. This means that the channels that convey data are faulty in many diverse respects. The mind, is prone to passion and ignorance.

Hence, it is infected by the six vices namely, Lust, Greed, Anger, Attachment or Illusion, Self-pride and Envy. When infected by these limiting factors, how can one come to the right conclusions? If the tools (senses and the mind) used to collect data are faulty, how can the information be correct? It is Impossible, says the Shastra.

Based on this statement, Sri Adi Shankara renders his first teaching: ‘Real Knowledge is beyond sensory perception and therefore what we see in unreal, Maya.”

The Kathopanishad warns:

“क्षुरस्य धारा निशिता दुरत्यया दुर्गं पथस्तत्कवयो वदन्ति”

which means, the path of perfection is as sharp as the edge of a razor.

The Brihad Aranyaka Upanishad further reveals:

” तस्मिञ्छुक्लमुत नीलमाहुः पिङ्गल हरितं लोहितं च॥
एष पन्था ब्रह्मणा हानुवित्तस्तेनैति ब्रह्मवित्पुण्यकृत्तैजसश्च, “

It means only a man who has walked the path of goodness is qualified to know Brahman. But, it is indeed very difficult and full of obstacles to tread on the path of goodness. When one walks in line with the Shastra, surviving the dangerous and self-limiting uphill path, our vision will deepen, widening our range of understanding. The mind becomes sharper and the presiding deities of the sense shall cast their celestial. This shall illumine us with unassailable wisdom, towards the path of perfection.

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Sadhana and the Way Out

The point of our discomfiture, is when we paint the world with our own erroneous thought-trains and emotional baggage. It is at that time, when the world shall appear like a never ending, deep, dark rat-hole where we are stuck for good.

Only sadhana, as recommended by Shastra can get us out of this dark dungeon. Above all our readiness to adopt and adapt to the Shastra is what decides our subsequent actions. At the end of the Sadhana path, a wholesome world of Brahman await us. The philosophy of Brahman, both form and formless has been discussed at length by Shastra. It has however been presented in a practical format by the three seers of Sanatana Dharma.

Sadhana, is conscious action taken so that there is inner transformation. Mantras, Symbols, Deities, Philosophy and Poetry are used to trigger conscious changes within us. The primordial sound of AUM is at the root of all Sadhana or spiritual practices aimed at the Self, for knowing and getting established in Brahman. Seers such as Shankara transmit their inner world through their phenomenal works of philosophy. Reading their works with faith and surrender, shall have the power to initiate transformation inside of us. This is the power of their immortal works.

Sadhana is not being loyal to a faith, a belief, a method, a Path, to a Teacher, any institution with rules and regulations or rites or prescribed ritual.

The goal of Sadhana is the knocking down of all the limiting walls that we have built within ourselves with the hammer of Dharma. What gives us this infallible hammer? They are but obviously the words of our preceptors who spoke out of their realizations, wholly riveted in Shastra.

Who is a Fake Preacher or Guru?

Some popular men claim to have “experiences of their own”. These people make it sound like they belong to a special tradition and as-if different from the rest of us. They say that they have not read a word of the Gita and are proud to reveal their ignorance on our great Scriptures.

They also pose themselves as modern and all-accommodating. In addition, they claim that their experiences are beyond the purview of the revealed scriptures.” A listener who subscribes to such views is sure to be conned soon by such fake, aspiring “Godmen”.

Stages of Progressive Sadhana

Shankara reveals that the culmination of all Vedic ritual is when one gets established on the platform of Jnana.

This platform is raised when there is a one-to-one connection between the individual Self (Atman) and the Supreme Self, Brahman. When the Wisdom of harmony is established between the Individual Self and the Supreme Self, deliverance is established automatically. Nothing remains to be proved or established, beyond this point.

Shankara’s Sadhana Panchaka is compared to an inclined ladder. This is because this inclined ladder represents the Sadhana process, where the aspirant is making continuous attempts to ascend the ladder of Knowledge.  As one climbs with full awareness on the ladder of Sadhana, he also becomes intensely aware of the obstacles.

He is observant of his sensory perceptions, the cheating mentality of his own mind and so readjusts the ladder so that he is able to apply the “grip of Truth” it. Once he gets a grip, the seeker steadily ascends the ladder, freeing himself of the sensory limitations one by one.

The dark night of shrouding Maya starts lifting itself just as fire shreds the covering of fog on a winter evening.

As the light of awareness is kept glowing, nothing is regarded as favorable or unfavorable.

Observation and the power of attention alone is enough to cut asunder the veil of misconceptions and wrong ideas.

Shankara Defines Upasana

Based on this nature of Sadhana, Shankara defines Upasana (उपासना).

He says: “उपासनं नाम यथाशास्त्रं उपास्यार्थस्य विषयीकरणेन सामीप्यमुपगम्य तैलधारवत् समानप्रत्ययप्रवाहेण दीर्घकालं यदासनम्” which means: “Upasana is the science by which an object is approached by dwelling upon it, visualizing it, for a prolonged time-period. This dwelling is as continuous as the flow of oil from a container-full-of-oil to an empty one. On this path, the sadhaka never rests through stagnation and improves his resolve, step-by-step.”

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