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Ashtanga Yoga — Advaita Vedanta and The Upanishads

The philosophy of Advaita, literally non-dualism, is the premier and oldest extant among the Vedanta schools of Indian philosophy. The upanishadic quest is to understand brahman, the source of everything, the Atman, the Self, and the relationship between Brahman and Atman. The upanishads explore these issues from different angles. The Advaita school teaches a complete essential identity between Brahman and Atman. In other Vedantic traditions, the essential relationship between Atman and Brahman is understood in different ways.

THE UPANISHADS “SITTING DOWN NEAR” (the feet of the illumined teacher)


The Upanishads record the inspired teachings of men and women who were seeking Universal Truths. Who wrote them and when is unknown; the sages who composed them knew truths were eternal and that their identities were irrelevant. According to Shankara (8th century mystic), ten have been considered principle, the true number is unknown.

The authors’ interest was to transcend the ostensibly rational processes by which we normally try to make sense of the world, in order to reach a state of Pure Being. This state is beyond all thought and feeling, and is referred to as the Self. The Self is unchanging and impartial, and is considered to be the only reliable basis for true understanding of inner and unstable (changing) to comprehend an Untimate Reality, which is stable and unchanging, and thus eternal.


The rest of the Vedas look outward, but the Upanishads look inward; there is a Reality underlying life that can be realized without ritual or the structure of organized religion. This Realization is why we have been born and the goal of evolution. The Upanishads explore different states of consciousness, asking questions such as “Who is the knower?” They teach that you cannot separate mind and observe its workings objectively. The mind is treated as both object and laboratory; attention is trained inward on itself through meditation.

In meditation, the focus of awareness shifts from the boundaries of a limited personality to the expansiveness of an all-inclusive field, not localized to the body, in which all phenomena arise, inhere and eventually pass away. When the conceptual veil through which we ordinarily see the world is lifted, each limited object shines with the boundless light of the spirit, and each transitory experience is a celebration of eternity. As the text says, the truly wise is one who “sees everything as nothing but the Self, and the Self in everything he sees”. Or as Sri K. Pattabhi Jois says, “Everywhere you look you see God.”

Here are a few examples from the The Upanishads

“The Self is one, though it appears to be many. Those who meditate upon the Self and realize the Self go beyond decay and death, beyond separateness and sorrow. They see the Self in everyone and obtain all things.”

“Control the senses and purify the mind. In a pure mind there is constant awareness of the Self. Where there is constant awareness of the Self, freedom ends bondage and joy ends sorrow.”

— from the Chandogya Upanishad, translated by Eknath Easwaran.

“When the five senses are stilled, when the mind is stilled, when the intellect is stilled, THAT is called the highest state by the wise. They say yoga is the complete stillness in which one enters the unitive state, never to become separate again. If one is not established in this state, the sense of unity will come and go.

The unitive state cannot be attained through words or thoughts or through the Eye. How can it be attained except through one who is established in this state himself?

There are two selves, the seperate ego and the indivisible Atman.
When one rises above “I” , “me” and “mine”, the Atman is revealed as one’s real Self.”

— from the Katha Upanishad