Shankara Quote attributed to
Ramana Maharshi & cited by
Wei Wu Wei's Open Secret

There is neither creation nor destruction,
Neither destiny nor free will,
Neither path nor achievement;
This is the final truth.

— Shankara, Vivekachudamani, VI.574

Edited by Peter Y. Chou

Ramana Maharshi

Preface: In my web page "Discovering Wei Wu Wei", I relate coming across his book Open Secret in 1968 at the Cornell Library. When I opened the book at random, the following quote of Ramana Maharshi stared at me: “There is neither creation nor destruction, / Neither destiny nor free will, / Neither path nor achievement; / This is the final truth.” As I was a beginner on the spiritual path to enlightenment back then, these words shocked me beyond belief. I read avidly all the books on Ramana Maharshi to gain some insights on these matters. I've typed up quotes from two of my favorite Ramana books concerning these topics (see Ramana Talks & Insights). Years later, I discovered that this Ramana quote came from Shankara's Vivekachudamani or Crest Jewel of Discernment (7th century A.D.). Below are my commentaries on the Shankara quote. I've also added two additional translations and link to commentary by Ramesh Balsekar.

There is neither creation nor destruction
Creation and destruction or birth and death occur in time. If we look at the waves in the ocean, they are born, grow, decay, and die. But from the viewpoint of water or H2O, there is no birth (creation) or death (destruction). Hence we realize that waves are temporal while water is eternal. This is the difference between form (body) and essence (spirit). Hence the light bulb (form) may burn out and die, but electricity (essence) is birthless and deathless. Likewise gold coins, gold rings, and gold necklaces may be melted down (creation & destruction of form), but gold (eternal essence) remains to be shaped into other gold objects. Meditation on form and essence will lead us to realize that we are not the body that ages and die, but the spirit which is eternal.

Neither destiny nor free will
Destiny or fate is based on past karma or one's previous actions. Hence, an arrow that was shot carelessly will not hit the bullseye. But the next shot is up to us, that is a carefully planned course of action will likely bear the desired fruit. Perhaps there is a pre-determined script we agreed to before being born. We may be unconsciously acting out that script in this life, but by not identifying ourselves with the hands we're dealt in life will alleviate much stress and suffering. We take up the roles as an actor on the stage, playing it to the best of our abilities. After the play is over, we relax and go on to the next play, realizing that we are greater than the characters we portray on the stage. And if we played our roles well, some directors or producers will hire us to play in a better drama next time. (See poems on Free Will Is Not So Free and Fate Versus Free Will)

Neither path nor achievement
If we practice yoga and self-discipline in the hope of becoming enlightened, we may not achieve our aim if it's for ego gratification or empowerment to be better than others. Somehow, a certain humility is necessary to receive spiritual blessings. Those who hunt for gurus (spiritual safari) or go to exotic retreats and monasteries to be enlightened, are heading in the wrong direction. The true path is within as Christ tells us "The Kingdom of God is within you". (Luke XVII.21) Confucius says likewise: "The Tao (path) may not be left for an instant. If it could be left, it would not be the Tao." (Doctrine of the Mean) When asked which paths to follow, Ramana told the young men: "Know first where you are and what you are. There is nothing to be reached. You are always as you really are. But you don't realize it. That is all." To a seeker who wished to attain liberation (enlightenment), Ramana said "There is nothing to attain and no time within which to attain. You are always that. You have not got to attain anything. You have only to give up thinking you are limited, to give up thinking you are this body." The wave searching for the Kingdom of Water will never find it outside itself, for its true essence is water. This discovery comes only when we look within us. So when the wave realizes that's it is eternal water, birthless and deathless, it did not really gain or achieve anything new. The wave only recognized its Old Self or when we experience our true essence— That Thou Art: I am That I am, Atman is Brahman, Buddha Nature, Christ Consciousness, Nameless Tao, Supreme Ultimate, Great Spirit Self.

Shankara's Crest-Jewel of Discrimination
Translated by Swami Prabhavananda & Christopher Isherwood
Vedanta Press, Hollywood, CA, 1947 (Mentor Book, NY, 1970), p. 115

There is neither birth nor death,
neither bound nor aspiring soul,
neither liberated soul nor seeker after liberation—
this is the ultimate and absolute truth.

Shankara's Vivekachudamani
Translated by Swami Madhavananda
Published by Advaita Ashram, Kolkatta (Web)

There is neither death nor birth,
neither a bound nor a struggling soul,
neither a seeker after Liberation nor a liberated one—
this is the ultimate truth.

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email: (9-17-2008)