Notes from Vedanta-sara by Sadananda

Written on March 31, 2022

Why this book?

During the Covid crisis, I took up a habit of walking regularly as an exercise. Apart from helping may stay fit, it offered me about an hour of uninterrupted time. During this period, I started listening to the talks of Swami Sarvapriyananda. I started by listening to his introductory talks like “Who am I?”, based the teachings of Mandukya Upanishad. After listening to a series of his lectures, I started to listen to the Bhagwad Gita series. While doing so, I realized that my foundations in Vedanta were a bit weak and I needed a firm footing.

While researching about it, I came across a lecture series on Vedanta-sara. Alternatively, you listen to the lectures on Spotify as well.

The lectures are based on an introductory book on Vedanta. Written by Sadananda in the 15th century, [this book]( is considered as an introductory text into the philosophy of Advaita Vedanta.

Vedanta-sara by Sadaananda

Book image from Amazon

In this article, I wanted to note down the main highlights as a reference for myself and for anyone who is pursuing the same.

If you’d like to purchase the book, the book is available on Amazon. Generally, the Advaita teachers appear to recommend these 3 books as introductory material:

  • Vedanta-sara of Sadananda by Sadananda Yogindra
  • Drg-Drsya-Viveka: An Inquiry Into the Nature of the Seer and the Seen by Shankara
  • Aparokshanubhuti: Or Self-Realization of Sri Sankaracharya by Shankara

Generally, there is a bundled deal - so do take a look and get them together.

Notes from the book

Definition of the cosmic and individual being

Aggregate Aspect Name Individual Aspect Name Characteristic Kosha State (Mandukya)
  Brahman   Jiva (जीव) Other terms - तुरीय
Brahman + Maya Ishavara Limited self + Maya Praagna (प्राज्ञा) Causal Body आनन्दमय कोश प्राज्ञा (deep sleep)
Brahman + Maya + Mind Hiranyagarbha (हिरण्यगर्भ) / सूत्रात्मा / प्राण Limited self + Maya + Mind Taijasa/Full of light (तॆजस) Subtle Body (सूक्ष्म शरीर) विज्ञानमय + मनोमय + प्राणमय कोश तॆजस (dreaming)
Brahman + Maya + Mind + Physical Body Virat (विराट्) / वैश्वनर Limited self + Maya + Mind + Physical Body Vishwa (विश्व) Gross Body प्राणमय + अन्नमय कोश विश्व (waking)

This is a summary of all the various breakdown of the core concepts.

General structure of Vedantic Progress

Difficulty Problem Solution Method
Hardest अज्ञान (Ignorance) ज्ञान (Knowledge) ज्ञान योग (Path of knowldge)
Medium विक्षेप (unfocused mind) Focused Mind उपासना (*Meditation)
Easier चित्त मल (Impurity of mind) चित्त शुद्धि (Purification of mind) कर्म योग (Path of action)

Chapter 1: Preliminaries

वेदान्तो नामोपनिषत्प्रमाणं .. (para 3)

Vedanta is the evidence of the Upanishads.. Vedanta - literally means the concluding of the philosophical portion of the Vedas

Journey of a Vedantin (pp 20-21)

  • Performance of the daily obligatory rites leads » acquisition of virtue;
  • Acquisition of virtue » destruction of sin
  • Destruction of sin » purification of mind
  • Purification of mind » comprehension of संसार (Samsaara) / relative existence
  • Comprehension of संसार » leads to वैराग्य/renunciation
  • वैराग्य » Desire for liberation
  • Desire for liberation » search for its means
  • Search » practice of योगा (Yoga)
  • योगा » habitual tendency of the mind to settle in the Self
  • Habit » realized knowledge of passages like तत् त्वम् असि (Thou art That)
  • Knowledge » destruction of ignorance & establishment in one’s own Self

About वैराग्य (dispassion)

A thing that has an origin cannot be permanent. Therefore dispassion should be practiced for all things, even for the highest that man may attain - the position of Brahma, which is also as impermanent as any earthy object.

6 Treasures of Mind

  1. शम - control of the mind
  2. दम - restraining the external organs (ie 5 sense organs & 5 organs of action)
  3. उपरति - function of mind that keeps the restrained organs from going back to the objects of the senses
  4. तितिक्षा - endurance / forbearance
  5. समाधाना - constant concentration of the mind
  6. श्रद्धा - faith (also working faith).

श्रद्धा does not mean blind faith. It is like saying, have faith in a text book until you have learnt the subject. This kind of faith.

With the 6 treasure arises मुमुक्षत्वं, i.e., a strong desire for liberation.

Characteristics of a good गुरु (Guru)

  • अकामहतत्वं - desirelessness
  • अवृजिनत्वं - sinlessness

Chapter 2: Superimposition (अध्यारोप)

अध्यारोप (Adhyaropa) is the superimposition of the unreal on the real, like the false perception of a snake in a rope which is not a snake.

Main argument from Advaitins:

Brahman alone is real, and ignorance and the entire material phenomenon of the world which are its products are only superimposition upon Brahman.

अवस्तु means an indescribable state i.e. which is other than existence and non-existence. अज्ञान (Agyaan) / ignorance is different from reality and unreality, as neuter is different from masculine and feminine.

This ignorance is to be one or many according to the mode of observing it either collectively or individually. (para 35) The collective ignorance is superior to the individual ignorance because the former is associated with Brahman and latter with जीव (Jiva).

Who is God?

In the traditional sense, ब्रह्मन् (Brahman) + अज्ञान (Agyaan) / माया (Maya) is called as सगुण ब्रह्मन् (Saguna Brahman) or ईश्वर (Ishvara). This entity is the highest manifestation of the ब्रह्मन् (Brahman) in the phenomenon universe and hence refers to the “God”.

ब्रह्मन् (Brahman) is indivisible. माया (Maya) can be divided infinitely. e.g.: Sun reflected in one large lake or infinite drops of water is still ignorance. The only real thing is the sun. (from lecture)

water reflection

The individual ignorance, associated with it (ब्रह्मन्) is also known as the causal body on account of its being the cause of egoism, etc. and as the blissful sheath because it is full of bliss and covers like a sheath;.. knows as dreamless sleep since into it everything is dissolved.. p47

In the waking state, the Jiva is cognizant of the gross objects. In the deam state, the gross objects are dissolved into the subtle, and he is aware only of the subtle. In dreamless sleep, the gorss as well as the subtle objects are absorbed into the Ultimate Cause. Therefore, the state of dremless sleep has been described as the state of ultimate absorption or dissolution (प्रलय). p48

Individual Jiva’s dreamless sleep is called sushuptih (सुषुप्ति:) while the dreamless sleep of the One is called pralaya (प्रलय ).

Mahavakyaa of Advaita Vedanta

  • तत् त्वम् असि - “Thou art that”
  • अयम् आत्मा ब्रह्म - “This self is Brahman”
  • प्रज्ञानं ब्रह्म - “Consciousness is Brahman”
  • अहं ब्रह्मास्मि - “I am Brahman”

आवरण विक्षेप (Projection/Concealment)

Maya / Ignorance has 2 powers:

  • power of concealment (आवरण)
  • power of projection (विक्षेप)

Just as a small cloud can obstruct the view of the sun over many miles, ignorance can conceal the true Self which is unlimited and not subject to transmigration.

The Self covered by this (concealing power of ignorace) may become subject to Samsaara (संसार) (relative existence) characterised by one’s feeling sa the agent (i.e. the doer), the experiencing subject, happy, miserable, etc., just as a rope may become a snake due to the concealing power of one’s own ignorance.

The power of projection creates all frm the subtle bodies to the cosmos.

Ignorance endowed with these twin powers of concealment and projection is the cause which transforms, as it were, the Pure Self, immutable, unattached and indivisible, into the Jiva and the world. As ignorace regarding teh rope gives rise to the illution of the snake, similarly ignorace regarding the Self, by its power of projection, brings before our mind the illusion of the phenomenol universe.

Material vs Efficient cause

  • Efficient cause: Potter making his pot (ie creator and created are seperate)
  • Material cause: Milk turning into curd (creator transforms into created)

Is Brahman the material or efficient cause of the Universe?

  • Brahman is not the efficient cause. _Having projected it, he entered it” (Tait. Up.)
  • Brahman is not the material cause. If it were, the cause and effect would be same and hence unreal.
  • Brahman+Maya from His Consciousness aspect is the efficient or instrumental cause.
  • Brahman when looked upon his Upadhi aspect is the material cause of the Universe.

Therefore, a new idea विवर्ता (Vivarta) is introduced. Law of Vivarta means the the transformation of the caue into effect without the former losing its own character i.e., the wholevisible universe is a mere illusionary appearance - while Brahman is the only real entity. For example, a spider is the efficient and material cause of the spider web.

Law of Vivara is different from law of परिणाम (evolution) which admits real change to the cause.

Evolution of 5 elements

5 elements (para 57)

These are called as सूक्ष्म भूतानि (i.e., pure elements). The same elements when compounded in specific proportions become the स्थूल भूतानि (i.e., gross elements).

Nature of Subtle Bodies

At this point, we’re talking about the internal organs, brain and mind.

लिङ्ग शरीर have 17 parts:

  • Intellect & Mind (बुद्धि and मनस्)
  • 5 organs of perception / ज्ञानेन्द्रियाणि (ears, skin, eyes, tongue and nose)
  • 5 organs of action / कर्मेन्द्रियाणि (speech, hands, feet, organs of evacuation and generation).
  • 5 vital forces / प्राण are प्राण, अपान, व्यान, उदान, समान

Subtle Body

The intellect & mind are split into 4 parts. All are considered as अन्तःकरण (i.e., modification of internal instrument)

  • बुद्धि (Intellect) is that modification of internal instrument that determines.
  • चित्त (mind stuff / memory) is the modification of internal instrument that remembers. Considered part of बुद्धि.
  • मनस् is that modification internal instrument that considers pros and cons (संकल्प विकल्प).
  • अहङ्कार (ego) is the modification of internal instrument that appropriates to itself (makes it mine). Considered part of मनस्
Inner Instrument Organs Sheath Main feature
बुद्धि 5 Organs of perception विज्ञानमय कोश ==> जीव which transmigrates सत्त्व
मनस् 5 Organs of perception मनोमय कोश सत्त्व
- 5 Organs of action + 5 vital forces प्राणमय कोश रजस

Evolution of Universe

From the 5 pure elements, using the concept of पन्चिकरणम् (mixing in 5ths), the 5 compounded elements are produced. These 5 compounded gross elements are also Aakaasha (ie ether), air, fire, water and earth.

Each element manifests the following:

Element Sense Sense Sense Sense Sense
Ether Sound        
Air Sound Touch      
Fire Sound Touch Form    
Water Sound Touch Form Taste  
Earth Sound Touch Form Taste Smell

From the 5 compounded elements, the following worlds (लोक) have evolved:

  • 7 higher worlds / planes: भूवर स्वर महर जन तप सत्यं
  • 7 nether worlds: अतल वितल सुतल रसातल महातल पाताल
  • The world (ie earth)
  • 4 kind of gross bodies along with food and drink appropriate for them.

4 kinds of gross bodies or organisms are those born of

  1. womb (humans, higher animals)
  2. egg (birds, reptiles)
  3. moisture (lice, mosquitos)
  4. soil (trees, plants)

Aggregate of all gross bodies is called वैश्वनर/विराट्. Individual is called विश्व. The gross body is also called अन्नमय कोश.

The organs of action and perception and mind are controlled by a corresponding god.

  • 5 organs of perception - दिक् वायु सूर्य वरुण अश्विन
  • 5 organs of action - अग्नि इन्द्र विष्णु यम प्रजापति
  • 4 inner organs - चन्द्र (conscious mind), विष्णु (subconscious mind), ब्रह्म (intellect) शिव (ego)

Overview of Philosophical Schools

In olden India, any debate or argument has to have 3 parts:

  • श्रुति - evidence from scripture
  • युक्ति - reasoning / inference
  • अनुभूति - experience / direct perception

चारवाका (Chaaravaaka) / Materialists were atheists who believe in the physical body or physical world and do not believe in the existence of any higher order being.

Philosophy Evidence
Deluded Layman Children are the self
चारवाका (Materialists) - level 1 Physical body is the self
चारवाका (Materialists) - level 2 Sense organs are the self
चारवाका (Materialists) - level 3 प्राणा / life forces are the self
चारवाका (Materialists) - level 4 मनस् / mind is the self
योगाचारा / हिनायना Teraavada Buddhists “self” is a stream of consciousness. Followed in Sri Lanka, Thailand
Mimaamsaka न्याय / वैशेषिक (तार्किक / प्रभाकर ) Ignorance is the self
Mimaamsaka Bhatta’s School Consciousness associated with ignorance is the self
शून्यवादि (माध्यमिक शून्यवाद) Maadhyamika Shoonyavada / Nihilistic School of Buddhism Self is identified with void. Followed in Tibet.
अद्वैत Advaita True self is the Brahman
  • योगाचार (Yogachaara) Buddhism was based on the original teachings of Buddha.
  • माध्यमिक शून्यवाद (Nihilistic school) is based on extrapolation of Buddha’s teachings. नागार्जुन (Nagarjuna) was the titan who formulated the philosophical foundation for this school.
  • कुमारिल भट्ट (Kumarila Bhatta) laid foundation of Bhatta school of philosophy. He systematically argued against the Buddhist traditions and laid the foundation for शंकर (Shankara) and other Hindu teachers.
  • प्रभाकर Prabhaakara Bhatta was the student of Kumarila Bhatta. However, he argued against his teacher and hence his school is called Guru and his school is called गुरुवाद.

The hardest challenge to Advaita historically has been from the Shoonyavaada.

As the Self is too subltle for ordinary understanding, the passages in question gradually train the mind to dwell on finer and finer aspects of the Self. This is called the अरुन्धती न्याय (Arundhati Nyaaya). One wishing to locate the tiny star called Arundhati is first directed to look at bigger and brighter stars. Gradually he comes to the right star. Similarly those scriptual passages gradually help one on to the Reality.

## अपवाद / De-Superimposition

As a snake falsely perceived in a rope is ultimately found out to be nothing but the rope: similarly the world of unreal things, beginning with ignorance, superimposed upon he Reality, is realized, at the end, to be nothing but the Brahman.This is known as de-superimpostion (Apavada). p101


In other words, Brahman through illusion appears as the phenomenal world. The breaking up of this illusion - which consists only of name and form - and the consequent discovery of Brahman, which is the underlying reality, is called apavada.

विवर्ता / Vivarta means an apparent modification or illusion which is caused by ignorance. विकारा / Vikaara on the other hand is actual transformation like milk to curd.

As a snake is a विवर्ता of a rope, so is the world the विवर्ता of Brahman and the illusion is removed by Knowledge.

Advaita believes the world is a विवर्ता of the Brahman. विषिठद्वैत / Qualified monoism believes the world to be a विकारा of the Brahman.


Defining तत् / Tat

In the sentence, तत्त्वमसि, the word तत् has 3 meanings:

  • वाच्य / primary meaning = विराट्
  • लक्ष्य / secondary or implied = हिरण्यगर्भ
  • व्यक्त / suggested = ईश्वर

In Sanskrit Grammar, there are 3 kinds of sentences:

  • सामानाधिकरण्य / Saamaanaadhikaranya: similarity, i.e. 2 words have the same substratum
  • विशेषण विशेष्य भाव / Visheshana-visheshyabhaava: adjectival relationship i.e. words qualify each other
  • लक्ष्य लक्षण भाव / Lakshya-lakshana bhaava: implied meaning, i.e. 2 words that imply something
Relationship सोऽयं देवदत्तः तत्त्वमसि
सामानाधिकरण्य “This” and “that” is associated with Devadutta in the past and present. Yet, both refer to the same person. “That” is Consciousness characterized by remoteness while “Thou” is Consciousness characterized by immediacy. Yet, both refer to the same thing.
विशेषण विशेष्य भाव “This” and “that” are about present and past implying a contradiction and yet, they qualify each other. Similarly, “That” and “Thou” are contradictory and yet qualify each other.
लक्ष्य लक्षण भाव “This” and “That” by elimination of contraction positions of past and present, stand in relation of implier and implied with Devadutta who is common to both. “That” and “Thou” by elimination of remoteness and immediacy etc. stand in relation of implier and implied with Consciousness which is common to both.

3 kinds of लक्ष्य लक्षण भाव:

  • Jahallakshana where the direct meaning is discarded in favor of the implied meaning. e.g.: गङ्गायां घोषः, i.e. “The village of the cowherds is in the Ganga”. Here the direct meaning “in the Ganga” is discarded in favor of “on the Ganga”.

  • Ajahallakshana where the direct meaning is not fully discarded but hints at the real meaning. शोणः धावति, i.e., the “red color is running”. We get the meaning as a red colored horse is running.

  • Jahadajahakkshana where one part of the direct meaning of a sentence is given up and another part is retained. e.g. In the sentence “This is that Devadutta”, the associations regarding time and place is discarded but the person called Devadutta is accepted. Similarly in तत्त्वमसि, the contradictory factors of remoteness and immediacy, omniscience and partial knowledge associated with “That” and “Thou” are discarded and Pure Consciousness which is common in both is accepted.

चित्तवृत्ति / फलवृत्ति

चित्तवृत्ति (Chitta Vrutti) is the focussing of the mind. It is like using a torch to shine light on a specific object in a dark room.

फलवृत्ति (Phalavutti) is the understanding / perception or recognition of an object in the mind.

In the spiritual journey, we need चित्तवृत्ति. For example, moonlight is reflected sunlight. At night, it helps illuminate and we “see”. During the solar eclipse, the moon reflects back the sun light. We don’t really need this light - the sun is self illumined. So, we need to focus our mind but, not necessarily aim for “recognition” of Brahman as there is no “knowledge of Brahman” as Brahman is all knowledge.

Steps to Self-Realization

In the 10th man story (दशमस्त्वामसि),

  • The 10th man was always present. This is the direct knowledge. However, the person wasn’t “aware” of it.
  • Somebody came and pointed out and the person realized, “Oh! I am the 10th man” This is the indirect knowledge.

4 fold path to self-realization:

श्रवण > मनन > निधिद्यासन leading to निर्विकल्प समाधि

  • श्रवण (shravaNa) means reading, hearing and actually understanding
  • मनन (manana) / reasoning means fitting things, understanding and “getting it”
  • निधिद्यासन (nidhidhyaasana) staying with the thought of Brahman, ie Vedic meditation.

Algorithm to judge good work - qualities of a good article, essay or any good written work the beginning, the conclusion, repetition, originality, result, eulogy and demonstration.

Example of “good” work is Chandogya Upanishad.

The Steps to Self-Realization

8 fold path to निर्विकल्प समाधि (Nirvikalpa Samadhi):

  • यम (Yama) consists of non-injury, truthfulness, non-stealing, continence and non-acceptance of gifts.
  • नियम (Niyama) cleanliness, austerity, study including self-study
  • आसन (Aasana)
  • प्राणायाम (Praanayaama) control of vital forces
  • प्रत्याहार withdrawing sense organs from their respective objects
  • धारण (Dhaarana) concentration / fixing of mind on Brahman
  • ध्यान (Dhyaana) / meditation. When mind wanders, gently bring it back to focus.
  • समाधि (Samadhi) Savikalpa samaadhi leading to nirvikalpa samaadhi.

4 Obstacles to निर्विकल्प समाधि

  • लय / torpidity: lapsing into sleep
  • विक्षेप / distraction: unable to focus on Brahman
  • कषाय: / attachment: lurking desire for wordly things
  • रसावाद / enjoyment: Tasting the bliss of सविकल्प समाधि and not wanting to progress any further.