WANT TO SEE something pathetic? Here's
a review of one of the best instruction manuals for
getting enlightened that have ever been written:
I am having a difficult time seeing
in this book what many of the past reviewers apparently
are. With [the] exception of one review I'm to believe
this book gives every answer to every possible question
that could be asked. I've read it, then reread it.
Where they evidently behold golden wisdom I find questions
answered with additional questions. What great wisdom
is revealed by these methods [is] beyond me. Possibly
this might [be] more valuable to psychiatrists than
That's from a review on Amazon.com. The person who
wrote it totally missed the point of the book.
She's disappointed because there's no wisdom
in the book.
Well, of course not.
Enlightenment books -- the useful ones -- contain
instructions for getting enlightened. You're supposed
to follow the instructions, get enlightened, and become
Unfortunately, this reader's misunderstanding is very
common. People think enlightenment is about absorbing
wisdom from wise sayings.
Sorry, that's not how it works. The way it works is,
the book tells you what to do. The doing
makes you wise.
One of the reasons a lot of people are confused about
this is that some methods for getting enlightened require
the student to adopt and hold specified convictions
about the mind and universe. For example, Sankara's
method of discrimination requires you to believe that
the real you (the Atman) is something eternal that cannot
be an object of experience. He writes:
The wise man who seeks liberation from bondage must
discriminate between Atman and non-Atman. In this
way, he can realize the Atman, which is Infinite Being,
Infinite Wisdom and Infinite Love. Thus he finds happiness.
The Atman dwells within, free from attachment and
beyond all action. A man must separate Atman from
every object of experience, as a stalk of grass is
separated from its enveloping sheath. Then he must
dissolve into the Atman all those appearances which
make up the world of name and form. He is indeed a
free soul who can remain thus absorbed in the Atman
The reader who wrote that foolish review would probably
read these paragraphs from Sankara and think, "Ah,
now I see! Atman is independent of every object of experience!
Now there is a fine piece of wisdom!"
But what do you do with such a piece of wisdom? Have
it laminated and hang it on the wall where you keep
profound truths? That's not enlightenment. That's an
What Sankara is really doing here is telling you what
to do. Look at the verbs in those two paragraphs:
must discrimate... realize... finds... must separate...
must dissolve.. .remain absorbed. These are your
instructions. They are Shankara's recipe for getting
True, Sankara makes assertions about Atman -- he describes
it -- but that's only so you can find it and do something
with it: dissolve appearances into it and remain absorbed
In other words, the assertions, and the beliefs they
induce, are operational parts of the instructions.
(This raises the question, "Are Sankara's assertions
true?" If they successfully induce enlightenment
and you adopt a pragmatist definition of truth, then
probably so. Otherwise, what difference does it make?
There is nothing troubling about having to believe something
that may not be true in order to become enlightened.
The troubling thing would be if we have to believe something
that may not be true after we are enlightened
in order to remain enlightened. And we do not,
because conceptual opinions are irrelevant in the enlightened
Now let's go back to Ramana Maharshi's book. It describes
several techniques for getting enlightened, but the
main one is self enquiry. This is basically a method
of mindfulness/concentration meditation (although he
doesn't describe it that way) that requires you to continually
bring the mind back to the question, "Who am I?"
To ponder this question you must fix your attention
on your sense of self, and over time this causes the
sense of self to detach from objects of experience.
When this process reaches a certain depth, enlightenment
Ramana's method is similar to Sankara's, but with one
huge difference: Ramana's method doesn't require you
to believe anything (although it may be facilitated
by certain beliefs). You merely hold your attention
in a certain way as much as possible and wait for something
to happen. Therefore Ramana doesn't need to tell you
anything to believe. Perhaps that's why our reviewer
at Amazon couldn't see the wisdom in Ramana's book.
Crest-Jewel of Discrimination translated by
Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood, Hollywood:
1999 Elena Gutierrezs, 1978, pp. 56-57.
Gutierrez is a contributing editor of Realization.org.
page was published December 7, 1999 and last revised
on May 9, 2000.