Dependence on persons, objects and places – all of which are external, and therefore other than the Self – is, in essence, worldliness. Spiritually mature people have always exhibited an equipoise irrespective of external factors. This independence does not come about by merely deciding not to depend on things outside. There has to be, to begin with, an intuitive grasp of how we are fine within ourselves. Emboldened by this hunch, we proceed to study the Ved ā nta, which supplies much clarity and confirms that we are indeed fine by ourselves!

A wise wife learns this from her mature husband in the Brihad ā ranyaka Upanishad. Maitreyi questions1 Y ā jnavalkya, “What would I do with things by which I do not become immortal?” We should not understand immortality here as some kind of staying alive eternally; ‘not to die’ implies ‘not to lose our sense of well-being upon meeting with loss of wealth, health and such things’. When her husband offers his huge property to her (and to his second wife), Maitreyi wonders if wealth can ever give lasting happiness on its own. We notice in real life how wealth many a time is not the end of problems but the beginning of a lot of new problems!

The dialogue between Maitreyi and Y ā jnavalkya is famous on many counts. It is here that the Vedic master reveals the truth that things in the world seem to be the source of happiness but they are actually not. Happiness lies in the Self. Nothing is dear to us by its own virtue. “A thing becomes dear to us by virtue of it being a means to (uncover) the happiness within oneself2.” We are the source of happiness; our true nature is happiness. This is the unique teaching of the Upanishads (Ved ā nta), not available in a thousand subjects that are taught in universities.

If we discover an inkling of this understanding within ourselves, we are then indeed poised to take up a devoted study of the science of Self-knowledge. If we realize that we were knocking on wrong doors for a long time in our search for ‘peace that stays,’ and it is now time to calm our mind, turn it within and look for the treasure of joy hidden inside, we must resolve to realize the Self. “You must behold the Self,” says3 Y ā jnavalkya and continues to add, “(for that) you must listen to the truth of the Self, reflect on what you listened and meditate on what you clearly understood.” Listening (shravana), reflecting (manana) and meditating (nididhy ā sana ) have thus become the foundation of spiritual practice in the Ved ā nta tradition.

This anchoring in right knowledge is on one hand a practice – abhy ā sa – and on the other not so much a practice because there is hardly any doing here. Practice ordinarily is ‘doing something repeatedly’. Here it is ‘seeing rightly’ called samyag-darshana. Studying, discussing with fellow students, speaking on it and contemplation upon it etc. are of course a kind of ‘doing’ but are surely distinct from physical acts like rituals, social service, pilgrimage or even bodily exercises. They have no role to play in gaining right knowledge but it cannot be denied that they can help us in keeping our mind, the instrument of study, in good shape. We must of course keep fit but we should not mix these things in our understanding. Jn ā na (knowledge, right seeing) is independent in its operation. Karma (action, work) is not the means to liberation. A girl studying chemistry may surely receive much help by having proper furniture like a study table and an ergonomically designed chair but the furniture cannot be given true credit for her gaining knowledge of chemistry. Likewise here, all credit goes to shravana, manana and nididhy ā sana for ‘right knowledge’ to dawn on the seeker.


1 yena aham na amrit ā sy ā m, kim aham tena kury ā m? – Br. Up. 2.4.3

2 ā tmanas-tu k ā m ā ya sarvam priyam bhavati – Br. Up. 2.4.5.

3 ā tm ā v ā are drasthavah, shrotavyo, mantavyo, nididhy ā sitavyah – Br. Up. 2.4.5