The Importance of Understanding


Sri Swami Atmaswarupananda

Early Morning Meditation Talk given in the Sacred Samadhi Hall of Gurudev Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj, Sivananda Ashram, Rishikesh

When Gurudev formed his forest university, he called it the Yoga-Vedanta Forest University. He wanted both Yoga and Vedanta to be taught–Vedanta primarily being the philosophy, Yoga primarily being the practice. However, in his teachings, Gurudev concentrated primarily on practice or doing. Indeed, he didn’t have too much patience with those who spent too much time on philosophy; sometimes he referred to them as dry-Vedantins.

So too with us. The important thing is to practice, not spend too much time on philosophy. And yet Gurudev did call it Yoga-Vedanta, because there is also an importance in developing our understanding, even if it seems somewhat esoteric and unnecessary compared to our normal practices. Because the truth is, unless we develop some understanding of what we’re seeking, even if we discover it, we won’t likely be able to recognise it.

Therefore, every morning when he comes here, while Pujya Swami Chidanandaji always ends up by telling us to do some practical Yoga, he always begins by offering worshipful homage to the Supreme Reality. In other words, he lifts our minds up to That which is beyond our minds. And frequently in offering worshipful homage he describes the Supreme as unknowable and unthinkable. Therefore, our first understanding must be that what we are is, in the final analysis, unknowable, ungraspable to the mind.

What is it then that we can know about God? Brahman is described as Existence-Consciousness-Bliss. God we cannot know, but we can be aware of our existence. We know that we exist, or we say “I am.” And Swamiji has told us that there is no harm in “I am.” Hold on to your existence. It is only after “I am” that we get into trouble. The problem is when we identify with lower forms and forget our sense of pure existence.

This unfortunately is our plight. We who are ultimately unknowable, we who can know ourselves as Existence-Consciousness-Bliss, have lost ourselves in identification with a body and mind. What is the purpose of understanding this? It is to recognise that the purpose of all our spiritual practices is to lead us back to that sense of existence, that sense of pure “I am” or the conscious presence.

Therefore, we should ask ourselves the question, “When I am repeating God’s name, am I getting that sense of Pure Existence?” We probably are, but it is not recognised, and so we just repeat God’s name mechanically without recognising that its purpose is to lead us back to our sense of existence.

This is the purpose of all our spiritual practices. When we’re studying Vedanta, it isn’t just to add more information to our brain, but rather to recognise the pure existence that it is trying to show us. Ramana Maharshi said that the enquiry of Who am I? is a direct route back to our sense of existence, our sense of “I am.”

Therefore, while both Gurudev and Swamiji want us to concentrate on doing, on our practices, it is important to recognise what their purpose is, which is to lead us back to our sense of existence, our sense of “I am.” And it is from that point that we can ultimately recognise our true source, which is beyond words, beyond thoughts, but is the Reality.

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