India Book House

Every year, it’s not guaranteed that my beloved and I will take a vacation. We do take time off throughout the year, but an actual dedicated vacation is something a bit new to us, after almost a decade of being together. While there are a few other trips on the potential horizon, this past week has been it for the year. We mostly piddled around the house and around town this week, and bounced a few travel plans around – finally settling on a day trip to Chicago. Saturday. My parents came with us, and it really made all the difference. Our plans were basic: Drive to northern Indiana, take the South Shore Line into the city and use the L to get everywhere, everywhere being two comic book shops for my beloved and Chicago’s Little India for me.

What actually happened was that we all carpooled into the city and got confused almost immediately within China Town, parked in China Town, boarded the L there and took it north to Devon Street, where Little India was supposed to have been. The first 20 minutes in the city and the last 20 minutes in the city were probably the most confusing. Luckily, the very first person we encountered was an L employee who was about as helpful as she could have been without actually riding the L with us – and she actually did do that breifly. You can see her below.


As soon as we boarded the L, we shot from the south side to the north and exited as close as possible to Devon Street, which Google indicates is the Little India of Chicago. Unfortunately, what Google doesn’t share is that there’s a good mile (more?) trek from the Loyola stop on the L to where Little India actually begins. On a hot summer day with Midwest humidity, walking a bajillion city blocks is miserable. Just about as miserable, though, is getting to your supposed destination and repeatedly finding only the same kind of stores: Groceries, dress shoppes, and eateries. Occasionally, we’d see a phone place or a salon of some kind, but the variety was lacking in the most disappointing way. Further, here in Indy, puja items are mostly bought at the Indian grocery stores. In Chicago, most of the groceries in Little India are actually more Muslim (Pakistani) than Hindu. In fact, this area of the city is alternately known as “Indo-pak” because of the very prominent Muslim presence. The result, as far as my shopping was concerned, was that none of the groceries we passed carried Hindu puja items like here in Indy. However, the closest thing we found to fulfill my needs actually was a bookstore and it was a treasure indeed!

The treasure trove discovered at the edge of Chicago’s Little India is called India Book House. We were almost passing it before we knew we were upon it, and after checking out a few Ganesha murtis in the window, decided entry was mandatory. The only way our time spent there could have gone better is if I were made of a little more of money than I am. This place was mostly a book store, but also carried a significant array of mandirs, music, DVDs, CDs, and murtis – many of which were of Ganesha. We spent a good hour in the store while I examined every square inch of the place, making sure no Ganesham went unnoticed. I left with five books: Shree MahaGanesh Siddha Vrat, The Book of Ganesha, Srimad Bhagavadgita (I have about 20 different versions of the Gita, but this is the copy most used at my temple here in Indy and I’ve been looking for an exact copy), The Thousand Names of Ganesha (this particular publication is only available for Ganesha, Vishnu, and Shiva), & Ganesha Puja Vidhi (a manual on proper Ganesha puja protocol as published by the Chinmaya Mission Trust.

I also left with no less than eight very unique Ganesha murtis some of which were good ole chaturbhuj forms, but I also nabbed a fantastic panchamukh and a 16-armed Mahaganapati which is likely to replace the Nrityaganapati as the mahamurti in my home’s mandir. I only say these are unique because I search the local stores and the internet on a somewhat regular basis and I’ve either never encountered these murtis before, or I may have seen close resemblances but not exact. Further, while I’ll admit to having spent hundreds of dollars more than I should have, I know from having already looked far and wide that the same murtis in most other places would be significantly more pricey. The multiple hundreds of American dollars that I spent were well-spent, indeed. Below, you’ll see a pic my dad took of me near one of the shelves with Ganesha murtis. I feel like the pic is a little goofy, but considering how exhausted I was from the trek there, the heat/humidity experienced, and then being nearly blissed out at the finds, goofy is what you’re bound to get from me.


Like the L employee, the man and woman who own and work the India Book House were immensely helpful and kind. Well, mostly the woman. The man mostly just tried to sell me on things I’d already spent 40 minutes looking at and decided against. That was annoying. She, however, assisted me numerous times making sure to keep my items at the register, freeing my hands free to grab more Ganeshams. She also gave me a couple swastikas free. And boon of boons! Near the end of my time there, I asked about locating some rakhis for upcoming Raksha Bandhan – one of my favorite Hindu holidays, and one I’ve been slowly preparing for. They didn’t have any, but she took my address and asked how many I wanted and how fancy I wanted them. I gave her all that info and she promised to grab me some directly from India, ship them to my home address, AND insisted I didn’t pay her for this! We’ll see if she delivers on her promise. If so, I’ll be quite pleased to finish my gifts to people! I still regret not getting a pic with them when I had the chance.

I’m not superstitious, but I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit to thanking Ganesha in my mind and heart when we found the India Book House. We’d walked SO far already, had seen mostly useless stores – half of which were strictly Islamic – and were really about to give up, when we very suddenly found ourselves at the storefront. I’ve taken photos of each murti purchased and have posted to my Facebook Ganesha Collection album which can be viewed here, I think.

After finishing up at the bookstore, because we had spent so much time just getting there, it was time to grab lunch and get to some of my beloved’s shopping. We grabbed lunch in Lockerbie Square where I saw a Hare Krishna cross the street wearing a dhoti, neck mala, and t-shirt. He disappeared into an apothocary.

We kept moving and found our way to the comic stores sought after by my beloved. Sadly, he was disappointed by his findings, much as I was with Little India in general. And I’ll admit, for being nicely located in a place like Chicago the comic shops weren’t spectacular. In fact, we’ve been to small town places back in Indiana that had more to offer. After visiting his places and buying more things, we meandered a bit around the city ducking into one place or another and then decided it was time to head home. During our wandering we passed a gurdwara for the Chicago Sikh community and meditation center for Raja yoga of te Brahma Kumaris.

Sweaty and quite exhausted we worked the L back to China Town and left the city. Overall, I’m quite happy to have this memory with my family. I can think of about 50 others I would also have liked to have along for the day, but time like this with just my parents and my beloved is worth more than gold to me.

Excellent blessings were received from my first and most important gurus, my parents, as we enter the Shravan month and celebrate Guru Purnima. I don’t think God actually loves anyone in such a way as to favor them (after all, that would mean the at least occasional negation of karma), but when so many “good” things happen as they did, it’s hard not to feel smiled upon.

Om Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha
Om Shanti


Shallow Shraddha

God statue

The last post might have your head swimming a little. It was basically meant to determine a few specific things: 1) There’s a difference between “real” and “existent.” 2) Brahman isn’t meant to be understood as the First Cause. 3) Maya is shared by everything possessing consciousness within the phenomenal world and is also beginningless and endless. 4) Existence continues indefinitely, even after what’s perceived to be real vanishes or falls away.

Be forewarned: Following, you’ll find a mix of paraphrasing and direct quotes from the Swami. If you’re reading this AND you’re a bhakta, you might find yourself strongly disagreeing with what’s about to be said.

Although Brahman cannot truly be said to be the cause of the phenomenal universe (Maya is) this could technically be inferred since Maya (the actual cause) is superimposed upon Brahman and has no existence apart from It. Only through this specific context of the relationship between Maya and Brahman can Brahman actually be referred to as the ultimate cause of everything. However, even when considering Brahman as the cause of the universe, it cannot be said that the universe is created from Brahman or that Brahman transformed Itself into the universe, since Reality – by definition – is incapable of temporal action or change.

This is where a new word comes into play. Ishwara. This word is used to reference the creative principle. Ishwara is Brahman united with Maya. We’ve already identified that Maya only continues to function in relation to an ignorance-based egoic consciousness. From there it’s not much of a stretch at all to identify Ishwara as Brahaman personified, that is, the Impersonal Ultimate Reality with my falsely-individualized and biased sense perception superimposed upon it. Because Maya is said to hold responsibility for the creation/perceivable manifestation of the universe, when that same force is personified the result is Ishwara.

With this established, it can be said that there are “two” Gods – The Impersonal (Brahman) and The Personal (Ishwara). This is otherwise referred to as Nirguna Brahman (Ultimate Reality that transcends any attributes) and Saguna Brahman (the same Ultimate Reality limited by personal attributes). Nirguna Brahman only appears as Saguna Brahman (Ishwara) within the relative ignorance of Maya. Because of the limitation that comes with assigning personal attributes, Ishwara has the same degree of reality as Maya. God the person is not the ultimate nature of Brahman. In the Swami’s words, “Personal God is the reading of the Impersonal by the human mind.”

Sri Ramakrishna was known to have lived continually in the consciousness of absolute Brahman and often used the following illustration, “Brahman may be compared to an infinite ocean, without beginning or end. Just as, through intense cold, some portions of the oceans freeze into ice and the formless water appears to have form, so, through the intense love of the devotee, Brahman appears to take on form and personality. But the form melts away again as the sun of knowledge rises. Then the universe also disappears, and there is seen to be nothing but Brahman, the Infinite.” (I think this points to bhakti as a primary, rudimentary, and preliminary means for building a relationship with Brahman, but also indirectly incriminates bhakti as a primary method of distorting the true nature of Brahman. It’s through bhakti that we see god personally (literally), but this very act seems to immediately and literally twist the Truth. Such is the price of ignorance and Existence within Maya.)

On the note of Bhakti Yoga, Shankara says this, “Although Ishwara is, in a sense, a person, we must beware of regarding Him as similar to or identical with the jiva – the individual human soul. Ishwara, like the jiva, Brahman united with Maya, but with this fundamental difference – Ishwara is the ruler and controller of Maya, the jiva is Maya’s servant and plaything. We can therefore say, without paradox, that were are, at the same time, God and the servants of God. In our absolute nature, we are one with Brahman; in our relative nature, we are other than the Ishwara, and subject to him. Devotion to the Ishawara, the personal God, may lead a man very far along the path of spirituality, it may make him into a saint. But this is not the ultimate knowledge. To be completely enlightened is to go beyond Ishwara, to know the Impersonal Reality behind the Personal Divine Appearance. We can become Brahman, since Brahman is present in us always. But we can never become Ishwara, because Ishwara is above and distinct from our human personality. It follows, therefore, that we can never become rulers of the universe – for that is Ishwara’s function. The desire to usurp the function of Ishwara is the ultimate madness of ego. It is symbolized in Christian literature by the legend of the Fall of Lucifer.

“If there’s only one consciousness, one Brahman, who is the seer and who is the seen? Who sees Brahman and Ishwara, and who is the jiva? Are they different or one?

“As long as man is within the limitations of Maya, the One is seen as many. Ignorance can do no better than to worship Appearance; and Ishwara is the ruler of all appearances – the highest idea which the human mind can grasp and the human heart can love. The human mind can never grasp the absolute Reality, it can only infer its presence and worship its projected image. In the process of this worship, the mind becomes purified, the ego thins away like mist, superimposition ceases, Ishwara and world-appearance both vanish in the blaze of transcendental consciousness when there is no seer, no seen – nothing but Brahman, the single, all-embracing, timeless Fact.”

If you back up two paragraphs, you may well be reminded of the scene from the Bhagavad Gita where Krishna reveals a vision of Vishvarupa to Arjuna, and also from the Gita where Krishna advises that those who worship ancestors attain ancestors and those who worship spirits attain spirits, etc… I find that scene to be supportive of what’s mentioned above. I understand Krishna’s words to be Nirguna Brahman’s Truth being “filtered” through Maya – the result of which is Arjuna perceiving Krishna to be simultaneously immanent and transcendental – which is technically true, but still highly (and unfortunately) subject to all the misgivings and pitfalls of Maya.

To wrap up here, I’ll close with additional thoughts of my own. There’s nothing wrong with worshiping Ganesha, or Krishna, Rama, or Hanuman – or any of the other supposed 330 million Hindu faces for God. In fact, their Appearance is quite natural from our standpoint within Maya. The same is to be said Buddha and Jesus Christ and the Divine Faces of any religious path. Further, the fervor (bhakti) with which devotees often pursue their ishtadevata (God of their choosing) is not to be discounted. Everything is entirely valid and meaningful when it’s in its place. I personally find it of high value to be devoted to an ishtadevata whose very form (perception within Maya) already transcends much of what’s already perceived within Maya – since, as already discussed in previous posts, transcending Maya is where Brahman is met directly. Of key importance is not only to know when you need one tool, but also recognizing when any one tool might have exceeded its usefulness.

I would urge all of you, dear readers, not to hesitate to seek new “tools” when your path has allowed you to outgrow the one you were using. There’s no shame in this. Of key importance is not only to know when you need one tool, but also recognizing when any one tool might have exceeded its usefulness in your own development. Existence is never restful, and stagnation is a sign of decay, not progression or growth.

Om Shanti

Let’s Pretend


According to Shankara, the phenomenal world has a relative existence that is superimposed upon Brahman. When transcendental consciousness is achieved, superimposition ceases. Because of this, we can know for certain that while the real world is existent, it’s not actually, technically real.

Shankara basically defines this superimposition as falsely remembering something in the place of what’s really there. Some might be quick to point out that one has to also have experienced or perceived what’s actually there in order to mistake it for the superimposition (You follow? You have to know something is there to begin with before it can be mistaken for something else) – and how can this be true of something like Brahman, which is not perceivable by the human senses? Shankara foresaw this argument and responds, “Brahman is not non-objective in the absolute sense, for Brahman is the object of the ego-idea. We know quite well, by intuition, that the inner Self must exist, since the ego-idea is a presentation of the inner Self. Nor is it an absolute rule that objects can be superimposed only upon such other objects as are placed before us; for ignorant people superimpose a dark blue color upon the sky which is not an object of sense perception.”

What this means is that although Brahman isn’t exactly apparent to our every-day sense perception, there is a manner in which we are aware of It: the inner Self. Yet Brahman is partly apparent to our normal consciousness also. Brahman is Existence, and we all know that we exist. In our ignorance we superimpose the private individuality of being Mr. Smith onto our awareness of Existence. In doing this, we end up forgetting that Existence isn’t our private property, but instead is universal and absolute. This expression of superimposition is our first act as human beings. The moment we say, “I am I,” we’ve started a kind of chain reaction which makes further superimposition inevitable. The very nature of our claim to individuality implies individuality everywhere, and immediately creates a superimposed world of creatures and objects upon the absolute Reality. The egoic self and world-appearance depend on each other. Lose the ego, and the world-appearance must necessarily disappear.

Beyond this, Shankara also notes that searching for the beginning of this cycle of world-appearance is futile and mostly fruitless: What is world-appearance? Maya. What causes it? Our ignorance. What is this ignorance? Maya, also. Shankara makes a very important distinction in regard to Maya/Ignorance. Maya is not only universal, but beginningless and endless. Ignorance (avidya) is beginningless, but can end at any moment. It’s precisely because of this distinction that 1) humans are born into the world perceiving the same Maya as all other humans, and 2) that an “individual” soul can achieve illumination, and thereby achieve moksha/liberation – which means the end of perceiving the phenomenal world to that consciousness – but the world still remains as perceivable (existent) Maya for all other humans.

Wrap your brain around that!

Om Shanti

A Game of Ropes and Snakes


Shankara’s view of what it means to be real comes from his predecessor, Gaudapada, and from the Upanishads. No object, no kind of knowledge, can be absolutely real if its existence is only temporary. Absolute reality implies permanent existence. For example, we often have different experiences while dreaming during sleep. Those experiences often contradict the experiences we have while awake. And of course, both our waking and dreaming experiences cease when we’re deep into dreamless sleep. And so every object of knowledge, whether external or internal, is subject to modification and therefore not “real.” Here in the West, we don’t often recognize that thoughts and ideas are also objects of knowledge.

Behind all our experiences lies the Reality. This deep consciousness alone is the only constant feature of all experience. Vedanta sits squarely between realism and idealism. Western realism and idealism are both based on the distinction between mind and matter. For Vedanta, though, mind and matter fall into the same category as objects of knowledge.

According to Shankara, the world-appearance can be likened to an imagined snake which ends up being just a piled/coiled rope. When the truth is known, the snake-appearance vanishes into the reality of the rope. In like manner, the world vanishes into Brahman for the illumined soul. This snake-appearance idea can also be found in the Ashtavakra Gita in a lesson given by sage Ashtavakra: “The universe rises from you like bubbles rising from the sea. Thus know the Atman to be one and enter even thus into (the state of) Dissolution. The universe, being manifested like the snake in the rope, does not exist in your who are pure, even though it is present to the senses; because it is unreal. Thus verily do you enter into (the state of) Dissolution.”

Other systems of Hindu philosophy (Sankhya, Nyaya, etc…) insist that the phenomenal world holds objective reality. Advaita Vedanta disagrees, insisting: there is no ultimate reality to the world of thought and matter. Mind and matter, which are finite objects with relations, are a misreading of Brahman… like confusing a rope to be a snake.

At this point, it should be made clear that according to Shankara there’s a difference between non-real and non-existent. Simply put, the world-appearance “is and is not.” In the state of every-day consciousness (ignorance) it is experienced and it exists as it appears. However, in the state of illumination it is not experienced and ceases to exist. Shankara also distinguishes between private illusions of the individual and the world illusion. He refers to private illusion as pratibhasika (illusory) and the world illusion as vyavaharika (phenomenal). So pratibhasika would apply, for example, to a man’s dreams – which cease to exist during his waking hours. However, the other, vyavaharika, continues through his waking life – until he comes to realization of the Truth through knowledge of Brahman.

This seeming paradox – the world being non-real yet having existence – is a fact. And Shankara calls this fact Maya. Maya has its basis in Brahman, but only applies to the phenomenal world of names and forms. This leads us to a deep philosophical issue: the relationship between the finite and the Infinite; the problem of how the phenomenal world came into being.

“If we believe that the finite has an absolute reality of its own and that it has emerged from the Infinite and is an actual transformation of the Infinite, or if we regard the Infinite as the transcendental first cause of the phenomenal world, then we must admit that the Infinite is infinite no longer. A God who transforms Himself into the visible universe is Himself subject to transformation and change – He cannot be regarded as the absolute reality.”

We surpass this difficulty if we consider the world as Maya. Further, this explanation of the universe is in perfect accord with modern science. Some might point out that the Upanishads state that the universe emerges from, subsists in, and eventually merges back into Brahman. Shankara doesn’t disagree, but explains it differently: The universe is a superimposition upon Brahman.

In this way Brahman remains entirely unchanged. It is not transformed into this universe, but appears to us as this universe, in our ignorance. We superimpose the apparent world onto Brahman just as we sometimes superimpose a snake onto rope.

It should be noted that the idea of superimposition (vivartavada) is inseparably linked to the Theory of Causality. Causal relation exists in the world of multiplicity – which is Maya. Within Maya, the mind cannot function without causal relationships. Here’s the twist: To speak of cause and effect with reference to the Absolute is absurd. To seek to know what caused the world is to transcend the world. To seek to find the cause of Maya is to transcend Maya – and when we do that, Maya vanishes because the effect ceases to exist. How can there be a cause to a non-existent effect? Thus the relation between Brahman and Maya is unknowable by the human intellect.

Coming up: Maya is an unreal fact.

Om Shanti



There are many branches to Hinduism, and just about everyone falls into one of two camps: Dvaitists/Dualists and Advaitists/Non-Dualists.

Dvaitists generally maintain the view that God and everything else are separate entities entirely. Christians, Muslims, and some Jews are experts at this. Most of the Bhakti Yoga paths, at least in the depths experienced by most devotees, also land squarely here (whether they like it or not) – and even their version of union with the divine often still involves keeping their own identities. Likewise, or not, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a great many Jnanis adhering to this view.

Advaitists are Non-Dualists and maintain the view that God and everything else aren’t truly distinct. This is definitely more where I fall – this is not to imply that those who adhere to Dvaitism are somehow less. In my own experience, years ago as a Christian, in my early Hindu years and nowdays also, the advaitist view has been more reasonable to me and more productive in my own journey.

Shankara, the author of the Vivekachudamani, was also an Advaitist and took the philosophy further. It might be said that Shankara’s philosophy is Advaita Jnanism on steroids. According to the Vivekachudamani, for Shankara only that which isn’t subject to change is real. All else is hardly more than an illusion. The biggest trap ever lies in confusing that which isn’t real for that which is. Everything snowballs from there and soon enough the sliver of God that is the human soul has not only forgotten its Source and original essence as a spark of the Divine Fire (qualitatively non-different), but perpetually and often increasingly confuses itself, becoming “lost” within Maya – mistaking the unreal for the Real.

Given that the concept of “real” is defined by Shankara as only that which is neither subject to change nor ever ceases to exist, we are faced with two options: 1) Truly only God exists, and 2) The goal of human life is to discern that Reality as different from what we currently and mistakenly perceive as real – and thereby find ourselves.

The largest and most complete, and also mystifying, conception of God within Hinduism is that of Brahman. Lots of comparisons can be made to (at best ) hint at what Brahman is, but from where we humans sit it’s actually more efficient, and indeed the only thing possible, to identify what God/Brahman is NOT. This is the source of the scriptural, “Neti, Neti.” (Not this, Not that)

Truly, if anything like “God” exists, it’s not going to be something that can be fully experienced or witnessed by the senses. It would simply be overwhelming… like trying to taste all the salt in all the oceans everywhere – at once. Your sense of taste couldn’t handle it. You can kind of hint at that though when you sip ocean water. The trick here is the avoidance of thinking that your sip fully represents the ocean.

Enter: Maya, and the concept of World-Appearance.

Om Shanti


Prayer Hindu

The first two chapters of this copy of the Vivekachudamani are really more of an introduction than anything and so much of what is said feels like the essence of Jnana, as I understand it. I also find what I’m planning to share in upcoming posts to be essential Hinduism if ever I’ve encountered Hinduism’s essence. Surely, the rest of what devotees would identify as Sanatana Dharma has grown from this very knowledge. You’ll see.

Many people mistakenly understand Jnana Yoga to mean hardly anything deeper than intellectual wisdom. Often, in an effort to refute the immense value of Jnana Yoga, people cite texts that point out that book wisdom won’t automatically lead to moksha/liberation. However, Jnana Yoga blows book wisdom (which is highly prone to ego influence) out of the water entirely, and is directly concerned with experiential knowledge of Reality. When I superficially consider what Jnana Yoga might mean for a soul that becomes illumined, I often think of the movie The Matrix.

Neo embarks on a journey of realizing exactly who he is at his center and by the end of the movie, after the realization that the illusion everyone lives in (Maya?) has no real power of its own, we’re allowed to glimpse the new “vision” his illumination has brought. He sees that the essence of everything is The Same… Everything is swirling in binary code, although the distinct forms of various things are still distinguishable.

That is Jnana Yoga. Commitment/Devotion was fuel for the fire that drove him along his journey. His actions were certainly a part of that process, too. The culmination of his entire journey was to arrive back at an experiential knowledge of Reality. With this manifestation of Jnana Yoga, he achieved liberation and was free to not only move about existence as need willed, but could also control the “material” world and was freed from fear. He ultimately attained freedom from Illusion(Maya) as well as those agents who worked within it. Then, as a Seer, he became a bodhisattva – someone who’s vowed to forever assist others on the same journey, until all are similarly liberated.

I’ll soon be sharing some of what I’ve learned in the opening chapters – that eventually bring me to the actual Vivekachudamani in chapter three. It’s lofty stuff, that’s for sure, but it’s also Truth.

Brace yourself.

Om Shanti



Some time ago I mentioned that I’d be creating posts based on a copy of Shankara’s Viveka-Chudamani. In truth, the actual chudamani doesn’t begin until the third chapter of the book. The first two, however have been incredible. In this post, I’ll be sharing the ass-end of Chapter Two, which happens to offer details about the four main yogas practiced today. I’ll admit that the explanation of the main yogas –as offered in this book – are pretty much exactly as I would define them.

A few of you have mentioned to me that you enjoy these posts, but that some of the words I have used, being foreign, are lost on you. In the context of any “yoga talk,” it’s my hope that this post will help you understand the esoteric background behind the word yoga and other words like bhakti, karma, jnana, and raja… and maybe a few others.

To be clear, while I don’t plan to use quotation marks, much of what I’ll be including from here until the end of this post is taken directly, if not verbatim, from this text.

    Methods and Means

There are many paths to the attainment of transcendental consciousness. In Sanskrit, these paths are called Yogas, or ways to union with Brahman. Different Yogas suit different temperaments. Indeed, each individual will approach the Reality in a slightly different manner. Four main Yogas are generally recognized in Hindu religious literature – Karma, Bhakti, Jnana, and Raja. Very briefly, their characteristics are as follows:

Karma Yoga, as its name implies, is concerned with work and action. By working selflessly for our neighbors, by regarding all action as a sacramental offering to God, by doing our duty without anxiety or concern for success or failure, praise or blame, we can gradually annihilate the ego-idea. Through Karma we can transcend Karma and experience the Reality which is beyond all action.

Bhakti is the Yoga of devotion – devotion to Ishwara, the Personal God, or to a great teacher, a Christ, a Buddha, a Ramakrishna. Through this personal devotion, this loving service to an embodied ideal, the devotee will ultimately transcend personality altogether. This is the Yoga of ritual, of worship, of the religious sacraments. Ritual plays an important part in it, as a physical aid to concentration – for the acts of ritual, like the acts of Karma Yoga, bring the mind back repeatedly from its distractions and help to keep it steadily upon its object. For many it is the easiest path to follow.

Jnana Yoga, on the other hand, is more suited to those whose powerful and austere intellects mistrust the emotional fervor or worship. It is the Yoga of pure discrimination. It transcends the intellect through the intellect. It needs no Ishwara, no altar, no image, no ritual. It seeks a more immediate approach to the Impersonal Brahman. This path may perhaps be more direct, but it is also hard and steep, and can be trodden by only a few.

Raja Yoga – the Yoga of meditation – combines, to some extent, the three others. It does not exclude Karma Yoga, and it makes use both of the Bhakti and Jnana approach – since true meditation is a blend of the devotional and the discriminative.

By temperament, Shankara inclined toward Jnana, the way of pure discrimination – although, he was capable of great devotion also. Renunciation, discrimination, self-control – these are his watchwords. Some may find his austerity too forbidding, but it is precisely this severity a valuable corrective to the dangers of an easy sentimentality, an excess of carefree optimism, a confusion of real devotion with mere emotional self-indulgence. Shankara was under no illusions about this world of Maya; he condemns its apparent pleasures and delights with brutal frankness. For this very reason he was able to describe so powerfully the complete transformation of the universe which takes place before the eyes of the illumined seer. When Brahman is experienced, when all creatures and object are seen in their real relation to the Absolute, then this world is indeed a paradise; it is nothing but Brahman, nothing but utter consciousness, knowledge, and peace.

Om Shanti

Can of Worms

Opening up a can of worms

If you look back into earlier posts here on Sthapati, you’ll recall that I mentioned having purchased a copy of Shankara’s Vivekachudamani. The particular copy in my possession is that translated by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood. I’ve been affected and really affirmed by this reading and in the posts to follow, have relied heavily on either Shankara’s words or those of Prabhavananda and Isherwood. This work is incredible and all should read it. The basic philosophical foundation of all of Shankara’s efforts is Advaita Vedanta. Some of my readers have griped that I often use fancy or foreign terminology, and I’m sure a term like Advaita Vedanta will strike these kind souls as such.

Vedanta is a compound word of sorts. Ved- means wisdom or knowledge. The suffix – anta means “the end of,” closure to, or culmination. Theoretically, something like “Joshanta” would imply the entire sum of all that is “Joshua,” that is “there’s nothing more to learn about Joshua.” As such, the term Vedanta shouldn’t be taken lightly and should be recognized for the very weight it carries. Much of what will be referenced within Vedanta pertains to the various Upanishads – other texts that anyone would do well to become familiar with.

Advaita translates simply as “non-dual,” and deals with the nature of Reality, or God. Generally speaking, and this is mentioned in upcoming posts, the Advaita view is that there’s no real separation between us and our Source – only an essentially imagined but very convincing one.

Certainly all of that, and much much more will be revealed in subsequent posts.

On the note of the posts about to be published, it cannot be overstated that the view of the upcoming posts is 1) Shankara’s “version” of Advaita Vedanta philosophy. 2) An accurate and fairly complete vision of what the practice and achievement of Jnana Yoga entails, and is certainly something mostly in line with my own personal views/beliefs. 3) Is not meant to directly offend or otherwise try to confrontationally challenge anyone in their current beliefs – beliefs should be continually challenged and reassessed, but this is the responsibility of the adherent, and if any beliefs held can actually hold their own & they perfectly suit the adherent there’s no real need for change.

With this much out of the way, I hope you’re not only prepared to spend more than a few minutes reading, but also prepared to spend more than a few minutes actually mentally chewing on what you’re about to read. A deficit in either direction is sure to mean you’re going to miss something important. The following seven posts are not meant for lazy people.

Om Shanti.


A little over a week ago, I think, I happened across a book in my favorite bookstore. The “stature” of the book itself wasn’t impressive. But after flipping quickly through a few of the pages, I determined that this book would indeed further my journey in Jnana Yoga. And – wow – has it ever.

The book is titled, “Viveka-chudamani,” which translates as something like “the crest jewel(chudamani) of discrimination(viveka).” The reference to a crest jewel is obviously to imply splendor or immense value or importance. In this case, and unlike the popular usage of the word, discrimination is meant to be synonymous with discernment – not judgmental prejudice.

Here’s where I feel a little silly. I’ve only gotten into the forward and introduction. Believe it or not, as thrilled as I am so far, I haven’t even read the actual work! Still, I’m hopeful that it’s highly indicative of the content of the piece itself that I’m so moved by something like the foreward/introduction.

With no expected ETA as of yet, I’m planning to share my thoughts and discoveries as I work my way through this book. The posts I could create from the intro alone would be whoppers. With that in mind, and with the sincere hope that you good people actually read what I post here, I’ll have to devise a plan of attack that will allow me to feed you all this stuff either in baby steps or some kind of “digest” format. Either way, I’m excited and I hope you benefit from this book as I’m sure I will.

Om Shanti