‘The tendency to neglect the doctrine that vedAntic study is intended only for the competent is responsible for the confused thinking of modern days. Even simple crafts such as masonry or carpentry, require a preliminary course of training. But in the field of brahma-vidyA, the science of value of the Self, the highest and the most difficult of all sciences, everyone thinks himself competent and entitled to study the system of advaita and even to sit in judgment over it. This attitude must go and must be replaced by earnest endeavor to secure first the necessary competence.’ shrI Chandrasekhara Bharati (Pearls-of-Wisdom).
‘Some rivers flow directly into the ocean. Others first join bigger rivers and then merge with the ocean. So also the paths of devotion, meditation and desireless work lead by stages to the ultimate Realization. The path of Knowledge is a direct means but it is difficult. To follow it, an aspirant requires the four-fold qualifications namely viveka, vairAgya, shama and the like and mumukShutva.’ shrI Abhinava Vidyatirtha (Pearls-of-Wisdom).
Here is the text we will be meditating on, as it has been translated by an Italian Master who goes by the single name Raphael.
‘The Sages have said that for realization it is necessary to practice four qualifications, without which the attainment of brahman could fail (18). The first one is discernment between the real and the non-real; the second is detachment from the fruits of all actions in both this world and other worlds; the third consists of the group of the six qualities, such as mental calm, and so on; and the fourth one is a firm and yearning aspiration for enlightenment (19),’ (vivekachUDAmaNi, Raphael, Aurea Vidya Foundation, 2006).
viveka indicates discrimination between things permanent and transient.
The principle way that viveka comes about is through accumulated puNya (meritorious deeds). Here we might note that pApa (sin) is the opposite of puNya. pApa is bad action that we do as a result of our fundamental avidyA (ignorance). If we have been doing sin for a long time, we will probably need to do puNya also for a long time to counteract the effects of our bad behavior. Only then will we have the clear hope of succeeding in our viveka.
What ethic can we follow to correct our bad behavior? In the gItA Krishna teaches us a pristine ethic known as niShkAma karma. He says, ‘Do whatever you like, but offer the fruits of all of your actions to Me.’. If the best we are able to offer is another cigarette or a lie to our co-worker, this does not matter to Krishna. He will still accept our offering nonetheless. However we may not feel such things are the best we have to offer. After all, we are making an offering to the Lord of creation. Gradually we will work to change our behavior, so that it is in harmony with what the scriptures and wise teachers recommend.
vairAgya means renunciation of the enjoyment of the fruits of action in this world and in the hereafter.
vairAgya is the result of successful discrimination. The more we understand that the world (and everything in it) is impermanent, and therefore not where we look to find lasting happiness, the more dispassionate we become with regards to the things of the world.
Strong attachments cause us to take the view that there is some combination of things we can do - or figure out - to realize the Self. Such attachments also prevent us from realizing that Ishvara alone acts.
From shrI Abhinava Vidyathirtha: ‘People are often devoid of dispassion. The reason for this is the lack of discrimination. Dispassion may dawn due to some calamity but that dispassion is only temporary. Only that dispassion that results from discrimination is lasting. The importance of burning dispassion can never be over-emphasized. It would not be wrong to say that much of the trouble which people encounter in controlling the mind is due to want of vairAgyam,’ (Pearls-of-Wisdom).
shamAdi ShaTka sampatti means the six behaviors. These are as follows.
shama means tranquility of mind, which is to say control of the antaHkaraNa (the inner organ comprised of manas, buddhi, ahaMkAra, and chitta). shama is the result of viveka and vairAgya. Importantly we want to consider that control of the mind is nothing to do with suppression. shama is the fruit of healthy self-education.
dama means self-control or control of our indriya-s, our senses. If we see a new car or a nice outfit and deeply understand that by possessing it we will not have greater peace of mind or happiness, then we are exercising dama. katha upaniShad gives us a beautiful metaphor in which buddhi (the intellect) is represented by a charioteer, manas (conventional mind) is represented by the reins and the indriya-s are represented by the powerful horses drawing the chariot. Our senses include the five j~nAnendriya-s and the five karmendriya-s.
uparati means introversion or inwardly absorption. uparati is the result of correct shama and dama. When we exercise both shama and dama in relation to the things of the world, we discover our own inner poise.
titikShA means forgiveness and forbearance. The obstacles we encounter on our path are the result of our prArabdha karma. Rather than blaming others or feeling sorry for ourselves we might instead think, ‘This obstacle is the result of my own bad conduct. Because Ishvara is an ocean of grace, He is allowing me this experience so that I may understand why I do not want to do sin, which causes undue hardship for me and for others.'
To paraphrase shrI Abhinava Vidyathirtha on the topic of encountering obstacles, ‘When tendencies nurtured in the previous birth are the same as those in the present birth then obstacles to a course of action are negligible. On the other hand, when past and present trends are at variance the one that is more powerful decides the course of action. If we try hard enough, we can certainly overcome past tendencies. How hard we must try cannot be determined beforehand. When obstacles are encountered we must try harder and harder till we succeed,’ (Pearls-of-Wisdom).
shraddhA means faith in the scriptures and the guru. Without shraddhA it is impossible to grow spiritually.
We have two questions here. Why faith in the scriptures? And who is a guru?
To answer the second question first, a guru is a brahmaniShTha (knower of brahman), a shrotriya (versed in the scriptures) and a good teacher. It is not enough for the guru to be a j~nAni. The guru must also be able to wield a pramANa or valid means of Knowledge.
In the case of vedAnta, that valid means of knowledge is the scriptures. However the scriptures are basically incomprehensible without the aid of a guru (or the grace of Ishvara!) to unfold them for us. It is because of this incomprehensible nature of the scriptures that we need to have faith in the guru as well.
In bRRihadAraNyaka upaniShad (II, 4, II-IV) we find one of numerous examples of an adhikAri approaching a guru: ‘(2) maitreyi said, “Blessed one, if I had this whole earth, filled with riches, would I become immortal by it?” “No,” said yAj~navalkya. “Your life would be as the life of the wealthy, but there would be no hope of immortality through riches.” (3) maitreyi said, “What use to me is something by which I cannot become immortal? Blessed one, teach me what you know.” (4) yAj~navalkya said, “Ah, you have always been dear to me, and now you speak what is dear too. Sit down here and I will teach you: but, as I explain, meditate upon it,”’ (upaniShad-s, Valerie Roebuck, Penguin, 2004).
In this passage, maitreyi is a picture of shraddhA.
samAdhAna means singleness of vision or focus. Our biggest obstacle on the spiritual path is often our own lack of focus. We hold to a manas or hive mind point of view and feel supported in our rational reasons for not digging for the spiritual by observing the lifestyles of family, friends, colleagues, and the society in general. Breaking this hold that we have is tantamount to a rocket breaking free of the gravitational pull of the earth.
In Phaedo, 99, Plato describes breaking this hold as the ‘second navigation’, which is to say, one begins to be guided by the noetic mind (nous, buddhi) rather than the sensible mind. The noetic mind is capable of meditating on ideas, whereas the conventional mind offers nothing more than opinions. As a result of this ‘second navigation’, one becomes a true philosopher, a true lover of wisdom.
mumukShutvam means the burning desire for spiritual freedom.
Lastly, we can consider what it is that we are to focus on. We are to focus on the possibility of our own realization and enlightenment.
It is not likely that we will have a burning desire for enlightenment minus some basic competency with regards to each of the above qualifications. These all serve to strengthen our desire for enlightenment, allowing us to receive the vidyA which brings our fundamental avidyA to an end.