Gurudev Sivanandaji used to tease the so-called Vedantins and Jnana Yogis at the ashram. They would say, “Aham Brahmasmi, I am that Supreme Brahman.” Occasionally, Gurudev would touch a Jnani’s arm with a little piece of stinging nettle. That person would jump up, “Oooh, oooh, oooh,” and Gurudev would ask, “What happened to your ‘Aham Brahmasmi?’” The so-called Jnani is proclaiming, “I’m not the body, I’m not the mind, Immortal Self I am.” But when the nettle stings, he jumps. So Gurudev would ask what happened to “I am not the body.”
That’s why Vedanta or Jnana Yoga is good to read, but you cannot practice it. For practice you need all the other Yogas. By practicing the other Yogas, you become fit to experience Vedanta—the oneness. True Jnana Yoga—the Yoga of discriminating between the Self and the non-Self—is something you experience. It’s not something you practice. To give an analogy, let us compare Jnana Yoga to sleeping. You work so hard, get yourself tired, then go home, and prepare yourself to go to sleep. You take a nice, warm bath, put on comfortable pajamas, have something warm to drink. You get the bed ready with a couple of pillows, and if it is winter, some warm blankets. You might play some relaxing music. Then you lie down.
What will happen next? Off you go. At that point will you say, “I am deeply sleeping?” Can you even say, “This Atma is sleeping?” No. The proof that you really are sleeping is that you are not saying anything. The moment you open your mouth and say, “I am sleeping,” you are not sleeping. Sleep didn’t require any of those things you did before; they were all for preparation. It is the same with Jnana Yoga and Vedanta.
This morning somebody called me on the telephone, crying, “Oh, all these years I have been working, working, still I’m not enlightened!” King Janaka had the same problem. Janaka was a great king who wanted to get this kind of knowledge, to know that he was the Supreme Brahman. And he wanted it right away because the scriptures say that enlightenment happens instantaneously, within a fraction of a second. So Janaka asked, “Where is my enlightenment? The scriptures say it comes in an instant. Scriptures will not lie. So who can give me that enlightenment?” To quote the scripture exactly, it says that if an expert rider has one foot in the stirrup, enlightenment comes in the amount of time it would take to throw the other foot over the horse. That is all the time it takes.
So the King Janaka announced, “Whoever can give me this experience is welcome to come to my palace!” Many came and tried, but no one could give the king this experience. Finally, the saint Ashtavakra came to know of the king’s desire. So Ashtavakra went to the palace. When he met the king, he questioned him, “You are quoting this verse: ‘Hear the Truth, and you get enlightened.’ But did you read the sloka before that one? It says, ‘Sannyastam sravanam kuryat,’ which means, ‘By renouncing everything you become fit to hear the Truth.’ Sannyastam, renunciation. Are you ready? Have you renounced everything?” King Janaka replied, “Oh, sorry, no.” Ashtavakra asked, “Then, how can you expect enlightenment to come?”
The sage then explained to the king that he would have to renounce everything that he would call his. He would have to give up all his identifications: “I am the king. I am a man. I am this, I am that.” The answer is still the same today. The “I” should be pure, just a simple “I,” that’s all. That is the true you, which is always the same, because there is no change in the pure knowing.
Once you knew you were a child, now you know you are an adult, and one day you will know that you are old. The knowing in childhood, adulthood, and old age is the same. So you think, “When I said I was a child, what made me call myself a child? I identified myself with the child’s body, and said I was a child, that’s all. Now I identify myself with the adult’s body, and call myself an adult.”
Suppose I were to ask you right now, “What are you all doing?” You would say, “Oh, we are sitting.” But are you sitting? No, your bodies are sitting, that is all. When you say, “I fell down,” what is it that fell? Certainly not the “I.” When you write somebody a letter and say, “I fell down yesterday,” you don’t make the “I” horizontal, you still write it upright. The different changes in the body make you feel different, so you identify yourself as the body. But there are no differences in you. You might say, “I feel tired,” “I feel sick,” “I feel good.” It’s not you that feels all these things. The changes are all in the body and the mind. That is a big mistake: to forget your true nature and to identify yourself as something different. That mistake is based on the ignorance of who you really are.
Renunciation means you give up everything and free yourself totally from all of these associations, identities, possessions. You are that Supreme Bliss. You are that Supreme Peace. Only then are you fit to hear the Truth: “Thou art That. Aham Brahmasmi. I am That I Am.” Until then, the word “I” has a totally different meaning. It’s not that pure I, it is the egoistic “I am so-and-so.” You’ll never be that “I AM” until you renounce the selfishness.
The worldly “I” should renounce everything worldly and become pure “I.” That is Vedanta. At that point you simply see everything as the same “I.” Until that time, you are limited. With a limited “I,” you see limited things.
Vedanta means the culmination of the teachings of all the scriptures. That is what Vedanta is: the end of the Vedas, or the part that is experienced in samadhi. Sometimes we hear people say, “I am in the second level of samadhi now. I have opened two chakras. I am at the fourth chakra now.” People may talk about that because they’ve read a lot of books. But the fact is, either you are asleep or not. So until you go to sleep, you prepare yourself for it.
Enlightenment is like that. You’re in darkness. All of these practices, japa, hatha, chanting and so on, are preparations. Drop by drop, drop by drop, you are eliminating the veil that blinds you. You don’t know which practice will be the last one—it could be a slap instead of a mantra—but suddenly you wake up! And that waking up is what you call Jnana Yoga. So all other Yogas prepare you for this Jnana Yoga.
Somebody asked the great old, saintly lady, Avvaiyar, “What is the sign of an enlightened being, the one who really has wisdom?” She simply said, “If he shuts his mouth, he is wise.” The sign of wisdom is complete silence. See that? So, until you get that, keep up the preparation.
~From a satsang by H. H. Sri Swami Satchidananda at Satchidananda Ashram-Yogaville, October 22, 1988.