The Best Upanishads Quotes by Shankara (4)

Ultimate Truth

"O best among men, if there existed someone else other than myself, then I could speak of this as 'I' and that as 'he.' But since the same Person dwells in all bodies, what is 'I' and what is 'he'? Such epithets as ‘I’ and 'he' are only meaningless jargon. That you are a king, that this is your palanquin, that these are your bearers, that these are your people—all this is illusion.

All this
is illusion

King, warrior, kingship, and other similar concepts used in practical life are all unreal—mere imagination.

"O King, I will tell you in brief what the wise describe as the immortal Supreme Truth.


"Atman is
the same in all creatures,
beyond prakriti, and
free from the changes of birth and growth.

O King, this same Atman, which is supremely great and is Knowledge Absolute, has never been associated with name or caste; neither is It associated now with them nor will It be so in the future. It has always the same relationship with all bodies; this relationship does not from time to time undergo change. This is the highest knowledge.

The dualists are victims of false knowledge. The whole universe is nothing but the non-dual Brahman; it is free from differentiation. It is of the same nature as the Supreme Self, called Vasudeva, and has no existence apart from Him. A spiritual aspirant named Niddgha received the teaching of non-dualism, became devoted to it, and as a result realized all beings to be non-different from himself. By attaining oneness with Brahman he realized final Liberation.

"As the ignorant regard the sky [which is free from colour] as white, blue, etc., so, on account of erroneous perception, do people see the non-dual Atman differently.

"Whatever is perceived in the universe is
the immutable Lord alone;
there exists nothing that is other than He.
I am He; thou art He;
all that exists is He.
Give up the delusion of separateness.

"The great king, as a result of this instruction, gave up the notion of separateness and attained insight into the Supreme Truth. He recovered the memory of his past births, obtained final illumination, and became liberated in this very body."

To quote from the Linga Purana:

"That the embodied beings wander about in samsara is the result of ignorance. If one reasons one finds no difference between Atman, which is free, and the jiva, which appears to be dependent. In truth, there is no such thing as one; where then, alas, is the possibility of two? Neither is there one nor is there mortal man; where then is the possibility of death? [* Brahman, by nature, is free from all actions and attributes. Therefore It cannot be associated with such adjectives as one or two. Death is predicated of what is born. Brahman does not come into existence from a previous state of non-existence. Therefore It is free from such notions as birth and death.]

"Turiya* is not that which is conscious of the inner (subjective) world, nor that which is conscious of the outer (objective) world, nor that which is conscious of both, nor that which is a mass of consciousness. It is not simple consciousness, nor is It unconsciousness.

[* The word Turiya means Pure Consciousness free from all qualifying attributes. The gist of this passage, based upon Mandukya Up 1.7, is that Brahman, bereft of all attributes, is wholly inscrutable to the finite mind.]

When Brahman is known,
nothing else remains to he known;
then one realizes Nirvana as
the highest good to be attained.

When afflicted with ignorance, one sees multiplicity in place of the non-dual Brahman, just as one sees double when afflicted with timira [A kind of eye disease which distorts one's vision.] there is no other reason for the perception of multiplicity. O brahmins, one cannot predicate, with reference to Atman, either knowledge or bondage or Liberation. There is neither prakriti nor its changes nor the jiva, which is called a modification of prakriti; all this is maya, which cannot be described as real or unreal!'

The sage Parasara states the same thing:

"The universe is projected from the Great Lord; in Him it merges again. He, the Lord of maya, accepts the bondage of maya and assumes diverse forms. But in reality He is not entangled in samsara, nor does He entangle anyone else. He is neither a doer of action nor an experiencer of the result of action, neither a man nor a woman, neither maya nor the vital breath; in reality He is pure Consciousness. Therefore the phenomenal nature of embodied beings is the result of ignorance.

"Atman is essentially all-pervading, immutable, and free from blemishes. It is non-dual but appears to be diverse through the power of maya; It is not so in Its own nature. Therefore sages speak of Non-duality as Ultimate Truth and the wise describe the universe as Knowledge Absolute. People with distorted vision see, because of ignorance, objects to be enjoyed. Atman, which is by nature Consciousness, immutable and free from attributes, is perceived as material objects by men of defective understanding. When they truly realize Atman as Ultimate Reality, and duality as unreal, they will attain peace. Therefore neither multiplicity nor the phenomenal universe exists, but Consciousness alone."

Thus the Vedas as well as the Smritis speak of the phenomenal universe, characterized by names and forms, as a mere assemblage of words, and therefore unreal. It is, in itself, unreal because of its constant changeability. Brahman, on the other hand, is described by the negation of attributes; It is therefore eternally real. The phenomenal universe, endowed with such positive attributes as grossness and subtlety, is completely other than Brahman. Therefore it must be unreal. To give an illustration: since there is only one moon, the seeing of two moons is an illusion. ...

Thus, after establishing the usefulness of the scriptural passages which speak of the many forms of Brahman as related to Its various upadhis, Vyasa finally concludes (Br. Su. III. ii. 16.) that Brahman is undifferentiated only, and nothing else. In order to clinch the argument, he quotes the scriptural passage, "As a lump of salt tastes salty only, both inside and outside, so Atman, devoid of exterior or interior, is a mass of Consciousness" (Br. Up. IV. v. 13.), and reiterates the fact that Brahman has no other aspect except that of Consciousness.

Quoting both the Vedas and the Smritis, Vyasa proves (Br. Su. III. ii. 17.) that the nature of Brahman is utterly free of all differentiation:

"Now, therefore, follows the description [of Brahman]: 'Not this, not this.'" (Br. Up. II. Hi. 6.)

"It (Brahman) is different from the known; It is above the unknown." (Ke. Up. I. 4.)

"Words come back, together with the mind, unable to know Brahman." (Taittiriya Up. II. 4.)

"That Knowledge which is utterly free from all differentiations and unknowable by words, which is realized as Existence only and known through the [purified] understanding, is called Brahman. The nature of the Supreme Brahman is the complete opposite of that of the variegated universe." ...

The experience of the knowers of Brahman refutes the reality of multiplicity. They have actually realized that the undifferentiated Brahman is the sole Reality. Now the following passages of the Vedas and the Smritis describe the unitive experience of Brahman:

"How can he who has attained the Knowledge of the unity of existence, through the realization of all beings in himself, suffer from any grief or delusion?" (Isha Up. 7.)

"When Brahman is known, nothing else remains to be known."

"This is the instruction about Nirvana (Liberation)." (Arunika Upanishad 5.)

"When there exists, as it were, another, then one can see another." (Brihadaranyaka Up. IV. in. 31.)

"But when everything has become the Self, then what can one see and by what means will one see it?" (Brihadaranyaka Up. IV. v. 15.)

"O Lord, the tangible universe which we perceive is really Thyself, whose nature is Pure Consciousness. Those who are not yogis see the universe through false knowledge. But on the other hand, yogis endowed with right Knowledge and pure in heart perceive the universe as the form of the Supreme Lord, characterized by Consciousness. O brahmin, a man called Nidagha received the instruction about Non-duality and became devoted to the non-dual Brahman. At last he realized all beings, without exception, as the Self and attained Brahman and final Liberation.

He who sees Atman alone,
and not a second object,
has, according to the Vedas,
become Brahman."

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* Excerpts translated by Swami Nikhilananda