Aparokshanubhuti (1)
Self-Realization of Sri Shankaracharya

Introduction to Aparokshanubhuti


Aparokshanubhuti written by Sri Shankaracharya (788-820 CE) describes a method that seekers can follow to directly experience the essential truth of one's one nature (Sat-Chit-Ananda). The goal of life is to realize this truth. This identity  is realized through the removal of the ignorance that hides the truth, by the  light of vichara or enquiry alone.

Aparokshanubhuti, or Direct Experience of the Absolute is an introductory work that expounds Advaita Vedanta philosophy. Swami Vimuktananda titles his translation Self-Realization.

Aparokshanubhuti: Paroksha means ‘what is far away’; ‘a’ means ‘what is near': it refers to the ‘nearest of the near’, one’s Self. Anubhuti means to realize, to experience. So the word means "Self-realization.” It can also be translated as ‘direct realization’ or ‘immediate realization’ meaning realization without the need of ‘media’, objects.

Sri Shankaracharya:
1. Till we develop the capacity to distinguish between Brahman and the things that we see around us in this world, we will continue to remain under the illusion that our body is the Atman.

2. The phenomenal world is an illusion and what is beyond all such phenomena is Brahman, the Absolute Truth.

3. Examine the reason for this illusion. Find out for yourself that ignorance or Avidya or Maya is the cause of such illusion.

4. Realize the identity of the individual self, Atman with the Universal Self, Brahman.

Then he prescribes fifteen steps to attain this Truth and cautions against eight impediments that will come in the way of achieving this goal.



Self-Realization of Sri Shankaracharya

1. I bow down to Him—to Sri Hari (the destroyer of ignorance), the Supreme Bliss, the First Teacher, Iswara, the All-pervading One and the Cause of all Lokas (the universe).

= I—The ego, the Jiva in bondage, who identifies himself with the gross, subtle and causal bodies, undergoes various sufferings and strives for liberation.

2. Herein is expounded (the means of attaining to) Aparokshanubhuti (Self-realization) for the acquisition of final liberation. Only the pure in heart should constantly and with all effort meditate upon the truth herein taught.

= Aparokshdnubhuti—It is the direct cognition of the Atman which is always present in all thought.

Everybody has some knowledge of this Atman or Self, for, to deny the Self is to deny one’s own existence. But at first its real nature is not known. - Later on, when the mind becomes purer through Upasana and Tapas, [??] the veil of ignorance is gradually withdrawn and the Self begins to reveal its real nature. A higher knowledge follows at an advanced stage, when the knowledge of the ‘Self as mere witness’ is seen as absorbing all other thoughts.

But the end is not yet reached. The idea of duality, such as ‘I am the witness’ (‘I* and the ‘witness’), is still persisting. It is only at the last stage when the knower and the known merge in the Self-effulgent Atman, which alone ever is, and besides which nothing else exists, that the culmination is reached. This realization of the non-dual is the consummation of Aparokshanubhuti.


Four Preliminary Qualifications

3. The four preliminary qualifications (the means to the attainment of knowledge), such as Vairagya (dispassion) and the like, are acquired by men by propitiating Hari (the Lord), through austerities and the performance of duties pertaining to their social order and stage in life.

= The Four Preliminary Qualifications:

1. Viveka – discrimination between real and unreal. Distinguish between two things that are mixed up.
2. Viaragya – dispassion, detachment, or renunciation;
3. Set of six disciplines/virtues:
– 1. Sama – mind control,
– 2. Dama – body & sense control,
– 3. Uparati – turning mind inwardly,
– 4. Titiksha – fortitude, spiritual toughness,
– 5. Samadhana – meditative attitude,
– 6. Shraddha – faith, devotion;
4. Mumukshuta – intense desire for freedom.

4. The indifference with which one treats the excreta of a crow—such an indifference to all objects of enjoyment from the realm of Brahma to this world (in view of their perishable nature), is verily called pure Vairagya.

= Pure Vairagya—One may be indifferent to the enjoyments of this world only in expectation of better enjoyments in the next. This kind of indifference is tainted with desires which bar the door to Knowledge. But the indifference that results from a due deliberation on the evanescent nature of this world as well as the world to come, is alone pure, and productive of the highest good.

5. Atman (the seer) in itself is alone permanent, the seen is opposed to it (i.e. transient)—such a settled conviction is truly known as discrimination.

= Atman—In this ever-changing world there is one changeless being as witness of these changes. This permanent ever-seeing being is Atman. The seen—This comprises everything other than Atman, such as objects of the senses, the senses, the mind and the Buddhi.

6. Abandonment of desires at all times is called. Sama and restraint of the external functions of the organs is called Dama.

7. Turning away completely from all sense-objects is the height of Uparati, and patient endurance of all sorrow or pain is known as Titiksha which is conducive to happiness.

8. Implicit faith in the words of the Vedas and the teachers (who interpret them) is known as Sraddha, and concentration of the mind on the only object Sat (i.e. Brahman) is regarded as Samadhana.

9. When and how shall I, O Lord, be free from the bonds of this world (i.e. births and deaths)—such a burning desire is called Mumukshuta [yearning for final liberation].

10. Only that person who is in possession of the said qualifications (as means to Knowledge) should constantly reflect with a view to attaining Knowledge, desiring his own good.

= After a person has attained the tranquillity of the mind through Sadhanas, he should strive hard to maintain the same by constantly reflecting on the evanescent nature of this world and withal dwelling on the highest Truth till he becomes one with It.

11. Knowledge is not brought about by any other means than Vichara [self-enquiry], just as an object is nowhere perceived (seen) without the help of light.

= It is ignorance or Avidya which has withheld the light of Knowledge from us. To get at Knowledge, therefore, we have to remove this Avidya

12. Who am I? How is this (world) created? Who is its creator? Of what material is this (world) made? This is the way of that Vichara [self-enquiry].

= Who am I?—We know that we are, but we do not know what our real nature is. In the waking state we think that we are the body, the physical being, and consequently feel ourselves strong or weak, young or old. At another time, in the dream state, regardless of the physical existence we remain only in a mental state, where we are merely thinking beings and feel only the misery or happiness that our thoughts create for us. Again, in deep sleep, we enter into a state where we cannot find the least trace of any such attribute whereby we can either assert or deny our existence. We pass through these states almost daily and yet do not know which of them conforms to our real nature. So the question, ‘Who am I?' is always with us an unsolved riddle. It is, therefore, necessary to investigate into it.

13. I am neither the body, a combination of the (five) elements (of matter), nor am I an aggregate of the senses; I am something different from these. This is the way of that Vichara [self-enquiry].

14. Everything is produced by ignorance, and dissolves in the wake of Knowledge. The various thoughts (modifications of Antahkarana) must be the creator. Such is this Vichara [self-enquiry].

= Sometimes seeing something coiled up on the road we mistake it for a snake and shrink back out of fear. But afterwards when we discover that it is nothing but a piece of rope, the question arises in the mind as to the cause of the appearance of the snake. On enquiry we find that the cause of it lies nowhere else than in our ignorance of the true nature of the rope. So also the cause of the phenomenal world that we see before us lies in the ignorance or Maya that covers the reality.

15. The material (cause) of these two (i.e. ignorance and thought) is the one (without a second), subtle (not apprehended by the senses) and unchanging Sat (Existence), just as the earth is the material (cause) of the pot and the like. This is the way of that Vichara.

16. As I am also the One, the Subtle, the Knower, the Witness, the Ever-Existent and the Unchanging, so there is no doubt that I am “That” (i.e. Brahman). Such is this enquiry.

= The Knower—The supreme Knower who is ever present in all our perceptions as consciousness, and who perceives even the ego. When I say, “I know that I exist,” the ‘I’ of the clause ‘ that I exist’ forms a part of the predicate and as such it cannot be the same ‘I’ which is the subject. This predicative ‘I’ is the ego, the object. The subjective ‘I’ is the supreme Knower. I am " That "—I, the ego, when stripped of all its limiting adjuncts, such as the body and the like, becomes one with “That” the supreme Ego, i.e. Brahman. In fact, it is always Brahman; Its limitation being but the creation of ignorance.

17. Atman is verily one and without parts, whereas the body consists of many parts; and yet the people see (confound) these two as one! What else can be called ignorance but this?

18. Atman is the ruler of the body and internal, the body is the ruled and external; and yet, etc.

19. Atman is all consciousness and holy, the body is all flesh and impure; and yet, etc.

20. Atman is the (supreme) Illuminator and purity itself; the body is said to be of the nature of darkness; and yet, etc.

21. Atman is eternal, since it is Existence itself: the body is transient, as it is non-existence in essence; and yet, etc.

= The body is non-existence in essence—The body is undergoing change at every moment, and as such, cannot be eternal. But granting that it is non-eternal, how can it be non-existent?—for, so long as it lasts we surely see it as existing. At first sight the body appears to be existing, however temporary its existence may be. A relative existence (Vyavaharika Satta) is, therefore ascribed to it. But when one examines it and tries to find out its real nature, this so-called tangible body gradually becomes attenuated and at last disappears altogether. It is, therefore, said here that the body, as such, is always non-existent, even though it may appear as existing for a time to those who do not care to see it through.


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* Translated & Commentary by Swami Vimuktananda