These last writings of Swami Siddheswarananda, the former head of the French Ramakrishna Order, are the culmination of a lifetime of spiritual search. In his teachings, the Swami sought to convey an experience of an intuition beyond logic, outside the play of opposites, through which we will be better able to understand the nature of reality. To elucidate his meanings and to make them broadly accessible, the Swami draws on the writings of others, including Meister Eckhart, Ramana Maharshi, Shankara, Hubert Benoit, Ramakrishna, and Vivekananda.
Swami Siddheswarananda (1897–1957) was a monk of the Ramakrishna Order of India and, until his death, the spiritual head of the Centre Védantique Ramakrishna in Gretz, France.
The author discusses the Principe of Vedanta using selected verses from Gita, and Mandukya Upanishad. The commentary is well thought of and frequently supported by the commentary of Shankaracharya and also by the verses from other Upanishads. The discussion is extensive; the English translation could have been better, but the translator has done a reasonable job of writing this book using the notes (in French) of Swami Siddheswarananda. This book may be summarized as follows:
Bhagavadgita IV.18: Action & Inaction. One of the basics of Vedanta is that Truth can be expressed through comparison and contradiction. It is clear from this verse that ceasing to act is still an action. It is important to understand that Atman, our proper nature is free from all action, because it is unborn (Gita II.20). It is only nature, Prakriti, which acts; the sense of ego and external materials, the action and inaction reside only in Prakriti.
Bhagavadgita V.18: The equal vision of a sage. Shankaracharya, in his commentary on this verse observes that Brahmin represent Sattva, the cow rajas, and the elephant tamas; in all of them the sage sees only the One, immutable, the one that can not be affected by the qualities, not even by Sattva, nor by the tendencies born from these qualities, whether they can be sattvic, rajasic, or tamasic. At every moment of the life of a sage, he is integrated in an atemporal comprehension, seeing the same principle in all manifestation.
Bhagavadgita X.10 & VIII.57: Buddhi yoga, the awakening of the intelligence. In the pursuit of knowledge, the higher buddhi eliminates errors, and the ordinary buddhi leads us in the domain of reasoning (yukti) and logic (tarka). In several places Shankaracharya declares with intransigence, that philosophical systems of Nyaya and Samkhya cannot yield the ultimate knowledge. If one wants to know the true nature of Brahman, one should reject the notions of totality and part, of unity and fraction, of cause and effect. As long as the reality or concept remains outside of the buddhi, then the vision remains at the plane of duality. This will exercise lower buddhi, but with the higher knowledge, one sees the Absolute Truth and the knowledge of duality disappears. This Higher buddhi encompasses everything into One Reality; the knower of Brahman becomes the Brahman (Bhagavadgita XIII.30; Mundaka Upanishad III.2.9), the terms buddhi, Brahman, Absolute, Ultimate Truth, Reality and Akshara, all refer to the same entity.
Bhagavadgita VIII.18 & 20: The comprehension of the non-manifested. According this verse, the samkalpa and vikalpa (imagination and volition) are the apparent reality that veils the ultimate realty. It is only by transcending maya, the Brahman could be realized. This is illustrated by the example of a rope that can be mistaken for a snake, when we realize that it is rope, the supposed existence of snake disappears. In the same way the maya, the apparent reality is superimposed on Brahman, the ultimate reality. Human beings are attached to what they see and experience, the manifested forms. But when one becomes conscious of the true self, then they will see that atman is the sole reality.
Bhagavadgita XIII.2: The spectator and the spectacle. The Kshetragna, the knower of the field is present in all the kshetras or fields are without any conditioning (apadhi). When one gets rid of ego (tamas) and gains knowledge, then only one vision remains that of Kshethragna. The power of ignorance (avidya) employs our attention to keep it focused onto constantly changing names and forms, and the reality seems to be divided into infinite number of spectacles. The ordinary vision is like a circle that is fixed while its circumference represents the infinity of objects perceived. The vision of a sage does not have a center or the centers is everywhere and its circumference is nowhere.
Bhagavadgita II.16: A dialectic existence. The dialectic is not proposing to define the reality with the help of demonstrations and arguments. The realty is silence, and inaccessible to various thought processes. The objective of dialectics is to point out the invalidity of conceptual thinking. While establishing the true nature of Brahman, one should not describe the Brahman in totality or in parts, of unity or fractions, cause and effect. This is to eliminate all definite conception of the Brahman. Shankara says that cause itself is unreal, because it is not perceived independent of its own cause. Thus cause is an effect of another cause. So if we pursue the cause it turns out to be the effect and cause remains in mind only.
Bhagavadgita IX.4 & 5: Contradiction and certainty. Consciousness, which is ever present, never becomes unconsciousness. This consciousness may not be perceived readily, but it operates through sense of vision. The whole universe, “from Brahma down to a blade of grass” can not be separated from That. This is the supreme non-manifested (akshara) who never becomes an object of perception.
There is only one reality, and it is non-dual. Mandukya Upanishad teaches of no contact or no relations. The human experience is strongly chained to relations and rapport, and knowledge arises from such an interaction. Casualty is a principle that originates from relations to explain the effect. The theory of reason is inherent in such a logical evaluation of things.
On the lesser side of metaphysics, I am a little confused about the book cover that has warriors with rifles sitting on horses who look more like Islamic soldiers. Is this appropriate for a book on the philosophical discussion of Gita?
Review By Rama Rao