Tattva Bodha: to realise the divine
The ultimate aim of yoga is to transcend identification with body and mind and to realise who one truly is – the infinite and eternal divine consciousness. Jnāna Yoga uses the intellect to come to this enlightened state. Jnāna Yoga is associated with Vedānta, one of the six philosophical schools of India derived from the Veda.
Veda means knowledge, and the scripture spans the knowledge of the natural world as well as spiritual wisdom. The Veda has no author as it is considered channeled wisdom by enlightened rishis. The Veda was restructured into four Vedas. At the end of each Veda are distinct philosophical writings called the Upanishads where the term “yoga”, as the enlightened state, is expounded upon. The Upanishads are the basis of Vedānta philosophy.
In the 8th century, Adi Shankara revitalized Vedānta through the clarity of his commentaries on ten of the 108 Upanishads. He also wrote other commentaries and books on Vedānta including the Tattva Bodha.
Tattva means “thatness” referring to the state of the divine. Bodha means “realisation”. So, the text concerns “the realisation of the divine state”.
The Tattva Bodha highlights four mental qualities whose cultivation leads to moksha, liberation from the suffering experienced in the material world:
- Viveka - discrimination
- Vairagya - dispassion
- Shat Sampat – six virtues
- Mumukshutva – desire for liberation
Realisation is often explained through the analogy of awakening from a dream. During a dream, we think the dream content we experience is real. Then, we awake. The yogi says the same for waking life. We think the waking content we experience is real until we become realised.
According to the Tattva Bodha, to reach realisation, the first mental quality to cultivate is Viveka, discrimination between what is real and what is unreal – the real being that which is not subject to change - divine consciousness.
Once one can distinguish the real from the unreal, one can apply the second mental quality, Vairagya, dispassion from that which is unreal. So much of life is spent chasing ephemeral pleasures. Once enjoyed, we move to the next, running from one dopamine rush to the next with a lack of sustainable contentment in between. Dispassion does not mean to withdraw from the world or to view life with disinterest. On the contrary, being truly alive is to act righteously in response to what the world presents at any given moment. Dispassion means to act with equanimity, neither liking nor disliking, and without seeking personal gain, striking a balance that brings us into a precise harmony with the world.
Living Viveka and Vairagya, one develops mental power and focus. One is no longer distracted by pursuing pleasure and avoiding pain but to living a purpose-driven life that brings a deeper and longer-lasting satisfaction.
The third mental quality is Shat Sampat – the cultivation of 6 related virtues like different facets of a diamond. The first three involve detaching from the world. The second three involve attaching oneself to divine living:
- Shama – control of the mind
- Dama – control of the senses
- Uparama – dharma, righteous living
- Titiksha - forbearance
- Shraddhā - faith
- Samadhanam – one-pointed focus on the divine
The first facet is Shama, conquering the mind. Our brain’s executive function applies impulse control and delayed gratification for our long-term benefit. This function is located in the neo-cortex which only fully forms by the age of 25. Earlier, the mind tends to be more emotionally impulsive, hard-wired with likes and dislikes that lead us into an enslavement to desire. Conflicts develop between our deeper wisdom and our emotional, impulsive hard-wiring creating inner turmoil.
Applying Shama, we understand that the mind’s proper role is to serve our higher Self rather than for us to give in slavishly to our mind’s emotional, unconscious impulses. We become conscious of our conditioned impulses which enables us to listen with more clarity to our innermost voice and apply our will to it. This results in a rewiring where those emotional impulses hold less sway over us. It takes conscious effort and time, but eventually, it gets easier, and we move one step closer to liberation beyond our mind’s conditioned limits and resistences.
Dama is to control the senses. We tend to direct our senses externally where we get caught up in our reactions to sense objects and sense experiences which throw us off-center. The more we are aligned to our higher Self, the more we naturally restrain our senses and become less distracted by the pursuit of sensual pleasures which only reinforce an identification with the body, opposite of our intended goal of its transcendence. The yogis use the analogy of a charioteer whose higher wisdom employs the mind as reins on the wild horses of the senses to maintain direction and arrive at the destination.
When the mind and senses are under control responding obediently and effortlessly to the will of the higher Self, one is liberated from conditioned and impulsive thinking and acts with clarity and purpose. The third facet is Uparama – to steadfastly follow the path of dharma - righteous action.
Facet four is Titiksha, forbearance to overcome opposites. Heat-Cold, Pleasure-Pain. One’s adherence to the righteous path is undeterred by adverse circumstances. The mental power is immense. One walks barefoot on the stony path not complaining that one has no shoes but with gratitude that one still has legs.
Hopefully, a picture emerges that the mind when made resolute and impervious to sensual and worldly temptations enables one to flourish like a beautiful lotus flower arising from the muck of muddy waters. Not a single drop of such water can penetrate its leaves or petals.
Facet five is Shraddhā – faith - where grace, wisdom and inspiration flows.
The final facet is Samādhānam – a laser-focussed mind on the divine, finding it in all.
The mind, which has been freed from worldly attachment through Shama (control of the mind) and Dama (control of the senses) and thereafter follows a dharmic path of righteous living through Uparama and manages to do so with Titiksha (forbearance) through the ups and downs of life and with Shraddhā (faith) eventually comes into the sublime Samādhānam-state of the divine. Take a moment to imagine yourself sparkling with Shat Sampat, this 6-faceted diamond of virtues.
The fourth mental quality is Mumukshutva – the burning desire for liberation. Without this inner fire, there are simply too many obstacles and temptations that derail one’s journey toward realisation. It is often said that the stronger the Mumukshutva, the quicker the realisation. There is a story of God dispatching an angel to two devotees. One asks when he will see God. The angel replies after several lifetimes. The devotee becomes discouraged. The angel gives the same answer to the second devotee who, unlike the first, becomes so enthused that God cannot wait any longer and descends immediately to receive him.
For the Jnāna yogi, there is a conscious cultivation of these four mental qualities. Take one, meditate upon its meaning and make an effort to bring it consciously into your daily life. When you see it manifesting, do the same for the next quality.
The Yogi’s Vocabulary
- Adi Shankara
- Jnāna Yoga
Adi Shankaracharyaji, Tattva Bodha, Reflections by Swami Gurubhaktananda
Chinmaya Mission France: La Connaissance de la Vérité – Tattva Bodha.