Śaṃkarācārya who had authored many works on dvaita or dualism such as Saundaryalaharī, etc. had also authored Supreme Advaita Scriptures or non-dualistic Scriptures like Ātmabodhaḥ, Tattvabodhaḥ, Vivekacūḍamaṇi, etc. What is the need for Śaṃkarācārya to author both dualistic and non-dualistic Scriptures? He was a loka Guru (Guru for the world) and he had the dual responsibility of developing bhakti (devotion) and at the same time, leading elevated souls to the path of Liberation. The path of bhakti leads to the path of moksha. We cannot get master’s degree without going to school and graduation. These are prerequisites for post-graduation. We begin our education in an elementary school and gradually progress to middle school, high school, graduation and finally post-graduation and research. Similarly, spiritual path, which is full of subtleties and negations can be pursued only after experiencing bhakti. What is bhakti? In bhakti, we worship a form which is mostly loved by us. Here, God and we are not on the same plane; god is always kept on a pedestal and we adore that form with clothes, flowers, ornaments, offer food for god to eat. Though god does not eat, we get satisfaction and happiness when innumerable food items are offered to god. When bhakti is intense, we also shed tears in front of this god. But, we don’t get tears in the beginning, but over a period of time, when we consider that form as our own, we become emotional. A strong relationship is established between god and us. This is the infantile step in the path of moksha. Many of us continue our lives by pursuing only the path of bhakti, without seeking the ultimate goal of our life. Human birth is God’s gift and we should not waste this without attaining Liberation. Both birth and death are always painful. Hence, it is important that we should get relief from transmigration. Śaṃkarācārya in simple terms laid the path to Liberation, which is easier to follow than the ritualistic path.
Nowadays, ritualistic path is commercialised and turned out to be crowd pulling events. Some may argue that ritualistic path is prescribed by Vedas. But, they are not aware that Vedas have subtle conveyances too. Aurobindo was the first one to give subtle interpretation to Vedas. He said yajña-s refer to inner oblations, burning ego, anger, greed, pride, attachment, desires, etc. These are the impediments in spiritual path, which is always internal. We should not be lured by crowd pullers in spiritual life. Spiritual life is always in seclusion. Nothing is needed for spiritual life; no wastage of money and no physical strain. All we need is only a pure mind. Spiritual path cannot be pursued where pomp and vanity are predominant; even bhakti takes a beating in this scenario. Now, we can understand why sages and saints went to forest to meditate. There are several instances about this in Upanishads. Kṛṣṇa also speaks of meditating in seclusion. Dualism or ritualistic path cannot be denounced. However, they are like pre-graduation period. Goal of our life is to attain moksha, for which Śaṃkarācārya clearly laid down instructions for us to follow. This path is simple and inexpensive and is the only path for Liberation.
After remaining in spiritual path for some time, the next move is towards mantra sādhana. Mantras are meant to protect and purify our mind. Mantras are to be initiated by a Guru. There are two types of Gurus. Some Gurus go deeper and deeper into mantra sādhana and barrages his disciples with scores of mantras. Other Gurus take us to the path of Liberation through the path of mantra sādhana and meditation. It is always better to approach the second type of Gurus, who guides us properly in our ultimate goal, step by step. But these types of Gurus are rare to find. No purpose would be served if we practice more than one mantra at a time. Mantras, as such, do not lead to Liberation. They only prepare our mind for the ultimate goal of realizing the Self, as Self-realization happens only in the mind. While pursuing mantra sādhana, again step by step approach should be pursued. In the initial days, we can use rosary beads for counting. After sometime, when we become conversant with the mantra, we have to discard beads and chant the mantra mentally. Then mantra should be meditated upon, which results in the mantra percolating into our subconscious mind. Thus, we unconsciously chant the mantra throughout the day. At this stage, we are ready to begin our spiritual journey. The mind needs to be cleansed with ritualistic path and mantra sādhana. Only in a fully cleansed mind, true spiritual path can be pursued. Without strong foundation, a tall building will always be unstable and similarly, without a pure mind, proper meditation cannot be pursued.
We need the help of our Guru from this point onwards and the Guru should be capable of leading us to the path of enlightenment. Spiritual path begins with three things. They are spiritual knowledge, prāṇāyama and meditation, exactly in the similar order. There is no point in reading books after books. The ultimate teaching of all the books is “you are That”. After acquiring the requisite knowledge, we have to unlearn what we have learnt, after grasping the essence and revelations of these spiritual texts such as Upaniṣad-s and non-dualistic texts authored by Śaṃkarācārya. Why unlearning? Otherwise, we will continue to dwell in doubts and there will be no end to such doubts. While acquiring knowledge, we should have absolute concentration. If we are not able to understand, we have to clarify our doubts with our Guru.
Before proceeding to the final path viz. meditation, we have to practice prāṇāyama, as advised by Guru. Prāṇāyama helps to cleanse the mind of all impurities and develop our concentration, which is important in meditation. Along with prāṇāyama, we have to learn to slow down our breathing rate, which helps to increase our awareness during meditation. To begin with, twenty minutes of meditation (which excludes prāṇāyama) twice a day. Nothing will happen in the first few minutes. After approximately 10 to 20 days, the first signs of silent mind can be observed. Under the guidance of Guru, one has to increase the duration of meditation over a period of time. Those who have responsibilities should not practice meditation for longer duration, as long duration meditation will lead to samādhi or trance. Remaining in samādhi for long time, will lead to detachment from the family. Hence, age factor should be taken into account while practicing higher meditations. Guru will properly guide us in this regard.
Once we have completed our responsibilities, we can meditate for longer duration, which will make us to remain first in savikalpa samādhi and later on in nirvikalpa samādhi, where we become one with the Self. We continue to exist in this world as long as the last trace of karma remains. Once, all our karmas are exhausted, we cease to transmigrate and merge into Brahman forever. This is the right path to Liberation. There is no short cut method to Liberation. Without a proper Guru, Liberation is not possible.