Translated by John Henry Richards
The man free from identification with the body lives experiencing the causal effects of previously entertained desires, just like the man subject to samsara, but, being realised, he remains silently within himself as the witness there, empty of further mental imaginations — like the axle of a wheel.
He whose mind is intoxicated with the drink of the pure bliss of self-knowledge does not turn the senses towards their objects, nor does he turn them away from them, but remains as a simple spectator, and regards the results of actions without the least concern.
He who has given up choosing one goal from another, and who remains perfect in himself as the spectator of his own good fortune — he is the supreme knower of God.
Liberated forever here and now, having achieved his purpose, the perfect knower of God, being God himself by the destruction of all false indentifications, goes to the non-dual God.
Just as an actor, whatever his costume may or may not be, is still a man, so the best of men, the knower of God, is always God and nothing else.
Wherever the body may wither and fall like a tree leaf, that of the ascetic who has become God has already been cremated by the fire of the knowledge of Reality.
There are no considerations of place and time laid down with regard to relinquishing this mass of skin, flesh and filth for the wise man who is already forever established in God within himself as the perfect non-dual bliss of his own nature.
Liberation is not just getting rid of the body, nor of one’s staff or bowl. Liberation is getting rid of all the knots of ignorance in the heart.
Whether a leaf falls into a gutter or a river, into a shrine or onto a crossroad, in what way is that good or bad for the tree?
The destruction of body, organs, vitality and intellect is like the destruction of a leaf, a flower or a fruit. It is not the destruction of oneself, but of something which is not the cause of happiness for one’s true self. That remains like the tree.
The scriptures that teach the truth declare that the property of one’s true nature is “a mass of intelligence” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.5.13), and they talk of the destruction of secondary additional attributes only.
The scripture declares of the true self that “This Self is truly imperishable” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.5.14), the indestructible reality in the midst of changing things subject to destruction.
In the same way that burnt stones, trees, grass, rice, straw, cloth and so on turn to earth, so what we see here in the form of body, organs, vitality, mind and so on when burned by the fire of knowledge take on the nature of God.
Just as darkness, though distinct from it, disappears in the light of the sun, so all that we can see disappears in God.
Just as when a jar is broken the space in it becomes manifest as space again, so the knower of God becomes the God in himself with the elimination of false identifications.
Like milk poured into milk, oil into oil and water into water, so the ascetic who knows himself becomes united with the One in himself.
The ascetic who has thus achieved the nature of God, perfectly free of the body and with the indivisible nature of Reality, does not come back again.
How could the brahmin come back again after becoming God when his external features of ignorance and so on have been burned by the recognition of his oneness with the Truth?
The Maya-produced alternatives of bondage and liberation do not really exist in one’s true nature, just as the alternatives of there being a snake or not do not exist in the rope which is not affected by them.
Bondage and liberation can be referred to only in connection with the existence or absence of something covering what is really there, but there can be no covering of God as there is nothing else and no covering, since this would destroy the non-duality of God, and the scriptures do not admit duality.
Bondage and liberation are unreal. They are an effect of the intellect which the stupid identify with reality just like the covering of the sight caused by a cloud is applied to the sun. For this imperishable Reality is non-dual, unattached and consciousness.
The opinion that this covering exists or does not exist in the underlying reality is an attribute of the intellect and not of the eternal reality underneath.
So these alternatives of bondage and liberation are produced by Maya and not in one’s true nature. How can there be the idea of them in the non-dual supreme Truth which is without parts, actionless, peaceful, indestructible, and without blemish, like space?
There is neither end nor beginning, no one in bondage and no aspirant, no one seeking liberation and no one free. (Amritabindu Upanishad 10). This is the supreme truth.
I have shown you today repeatedly, as my own son, this ultimate secret, the supreme crest of the scriptures and of the complete Vedanta, considering you one seeking liberation, free from the stains of this dark time, and with a mind free from sensuality.
On hearing these words of his guru the disciple prostrated himself before him and with his permission went away free from bondage.
The guru too with his mind immersed in the ocean of Truth and Bliss, and with his mind free of discriminations went on his way purifying the whole world.
In this way, in the form of a dialogue between teacher and pupil, the nature of one’s true self has been taught for easy attainment of the joy of Realisation by those seeking liberation.
May those ascetics who have removed all defilements of mind by the designated methods, whose minds are at peace and free from the pleasures of the world, and who delight in the scriptures, reverence this teaching.
For those who are suffering in samsara from the heat of the threefold forms of pain, and wandering in delusion in a desert thirsting for water, may these words of Shankara which secure nirvana and excel all others, procure for them the ocean of nectar close by in the form of the non-dual God.
The following verse is found in some editions, following verse 327, which also then omit verses 328 and 329. There are also other minor differences, above all in the division of the verses, but these make little difference in practice to the meaning.
He who has achieved perfection while still alive, is perfect when free from the body too. The Yajur Veda declares that he who sees duality experiences fear.
John Henry Richards was an Anglican clergyman who worked at several churches on the Castlemartin Peninsula in Wales. He died in 2017. For more information, see our main page about him.
This page was published on May 16, 2000 and last revised on May 27, 2017.