The aim of this further anthology – drawn from audiences with His Holiness Shantanand Saraswati, Shankarcharya of Jyotir Math – is to provide refreshment, clarity of heart and mind, and the recollection of important ideas.
“With ordinary knowledge we identify ourselves with things or events and so experience pleasure or pain. But behind the structure of such knowledge flows the true Knowledge which does not bind one. This is Spiritual Knowledge which helps us to rise above the results of pleasure and pain and enjoy bliss whilst in the midst of actions.”
ISBN 978-0-9561442-5-6 (Paperback, 112 pages)
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The introduction to the book reveals some of the background circumstances which led Dr Francis Roles to meet his deeply knowledgeable and inspiring teacher, Shantanand Saraswati, who was Shankaracharya of Jyotir Math from 1953-1993 (actively retiring in 1980). Dr Roles had been a prominent student of the Russian metaphysical philosopher, P. D. Ouspensky, who understood the system he taught to be incomplete and encouraged Roles to search for what was missing. That search was faithfully made and led, via an encounter with Maharishi Mahesh, to the tradition of Advaita Vedanta and in particular to Mahesh's own teacher Shantanand, who was the successor of the highly revered Brahmananda Saraswati, at Jyotir Math, a centre of metaphysical insight founded by Sankara far back in the mists of Indian history.
As soon as Francis Roles met Shantanand he recognised him as someone who embodied the principle of 'Self-remembering', which was a fundamental concept in the Ouspensky system. Although other teachers of Advaita may not mention Self-remembering very often, it is a significant part of the practices, known as sadhana, which are designed to lead to Self-Realization, the ultimate aim of Advaita philosophy. Self-Realization is the blissful realization or actualization that all and everything in the universe are the One same transcendental Self, Oneself, known in Advaita as the Parabrahman. Shantanand spoke openly of Self-remembering during his first meeting with Francis Roles, who with some amazement realized that he had made contact with a direct link to the source of the system of knowledge that had been unsatisfying and fragmentary, as transmitted by Ouspensky. Roles requested further audiences with Shantanand, which were granted.
The meetings between Roles and Shantanand, in the form of questions and answers between student and teacher on philosophical and practical subjects related to Advaita Vedanta, took place mainly in the Sankara Math at Allahabad, from 1961 until the death of Dr Roles in 1982, although other members of the Study Society continued to meet Shantanand until 1993. All the talks were recorded and extracts of the earlier audiences were published in 'Good Company' and this volume, 'Good Company II', contains a second selection of talks from the later meetings.
The first section of the book discusses the purpose of life. Shantanand reveals that the purpose of Man is to realize the one light of Atman which is in everybody as well as in every particle of creation. It is a light that can eventually be seen, and it is possible to become One with it. The technique of meditation, reconstructed by Brahmananda and taught by Shantanand, is essentially a journey back home, going back home to the Self, which is within. The second section examines the concept of unity in diversity. The universe is perfect for someone who has visionary insight into its total unity, who always compassionately acts to eradicate misery and to minimize suffering. In the state of realization the individual is transformed into the universal. Total unity takes place when the truth is known that the world is an illusion, and there is no difference between the Self and the Absolute. The universe is one and perfect within the Absolute, and it is only in illusion and agitation that it seems to be incomplete, separated and alienated. Self-realization is simply the elimination of hindrances to beliefs that one is not realized. The third section deals with impediments. There is no obstacle which cannot be removed by reason and wisdom, since obstacles are nothing more than wrong perception. Attachments, desires, hatred, superimpositions, the predominant influences of rajas and tamas, restless thoughts, false 'I', conflict, emphasis on the material physical world, are some of the impediments which change when one renounces all desire to fulfil one's own needs, and devotes one's life to serving others. The universe then begins to provide all that is required.
The fourth section considers liberation. The liberated man remains in stillness and equilibrium whenever duality presents itself in his worldly affairs. Worldly and spiritual activity become one and the same, because he realizes that the whole of creation is a great drama and any gain or loss, praise or blame, any good or bad, is part of the passing show. Shantanand explains with considerable insight the two great advaitic laws: the Law of Three, the gunas, and the Law of Seven, which governs the process of succession which is a repetitive motion unless there is escape from the circle by full realization. A fifth section teaches the principles of Meditation, which corrects aspects of the body and soul and aims to reach that state of total stillness where the mantra, meditation and the meditator merge into one undifferentiated unity. Good Company is the subject of the sixth section, where Shantanand reveals there are three levels of company: the company of the Self, the company of the realized man, and the company of sacred literature.
The seventh section discusses the origin of religions. Surprisingly, the Sanatan Dharma, traditionally associated with the Hindus, is not bound by time and space, nor to one division of humanity. It is for the human race as a whole. The world is one and is governed by eternal rules. The eighth and final section is concerned with compassion and forgiveness. Shantanand advocates the cultivation of the habit of never thinking of the defects of others, nor of our own. If there is to be purity in our practical life our attitude should be to overlook and ignore them.
The book contains a short glossary explaining the English equivalent meanings of some key Sanskrit words found in the text.
Shantanand taught that there are three ways to Realization: action, devotion, reason. Although realization is instantaneous, in which all sense of separation is dissolved, and once it happens it does not disappear, nevertheless the elimination of hindrances to it is a gradual process, depending on the purification of the soul. If there is a selfish attitude, or the employment of pretence, no progress can be made. Shantanand was no mere theoretician, his own being perfectly incorporated and reflected the principles he taught.
As a teacher, Shantanand appears to be uniquely balanced, having a fine manifestation in his nature of the three characteristic aspects of Advaita: reason, devotion, and action. The Advaita he teaches may sometimes appear to be more theistic and devotional than the impersonal absolutism presented by some other jnanis, but reading through each paragraph the clear impression one receives is that the words have been spoken by a man of constancy of love, whose intellect is more powerful than it may initially appear, and who is able to adapt the principles of Advaita to the language, the modes of thought, as well as offering the necessary practical help, in a form accessible to someone from an English and European culture that he would probably never have experienced and only had contact with indirectly. Only a small fraction of the constant stream of insightful ideas and profound advaitic principles presented by Shantanand in the book can possibly be intimated in any review, and the reader will find that the pages of the book will provide many hours of subtle and illuminating contemplation.
J W | Neath, Wales | August 2013