Advaita literally means “not two”. The Advaita philosophy of “not-two”, sometimes called “non-dualism” is known by this name because it holds that one alone exists, without any thing that could be called a second. The true self-identity of each of us is Advaita, pure consciousness; the false identity lies in an illusion of knowledge: just as a person, safely asleep at home can at the same time be in great fear, perhaps being chased or injured, in a dream. In the normal course of events, nothing in the dream can shake the dream- knowledge of being afraid and subject to the threat of another.

When we awaken from dream, we can see by analysis that neither the perceived subject nor the object of the dream experience was real; both evaporate as experienced realities on waking (though they may be remembered).

In the Aitareya Upanishad there is a declaration: “He sees three dreams,” which the commentator Shankara explains as the states of waking, dream, and dreamless sleep. To the objection that the waking state is not a dream Shankara replies that it is a dream, because in that state there is no awareness of the supreme self, (which is beyond fear). As in other Upanishadic texts, what is declared is from the standpoint of knowledge, whereas many other texts, such as the Bhagavad Gita, The Crest Jewel of Discrimination, Direct

Experience of Reality, provisionally assume the standpoint of most of us, who have not yet broken through to spiritual knowledge and continue to see the world as a bewildering motley.

Trevor Leggett, referred to the supreme self as the most interesting thing in the universe.”Avatara

A descent or incarnation of God in bodily form. The Bhagavad Gita gives the purpose of the repeated incarnations as serving to protect and save those who have turned to God.

Bhagavad Gita, also known simply as the “Gita”

The song of the Lord. It is the title of an inspired poem in approximately 700 verses setting out the teachings of the avatara Krishna to his warrior pupil, Arjuna, who is in the middle of a great crisis. One of the similarities of this text to the Christian New Testament lies in the fact that many of the utterances by the teacher are either quotations from or allusions to sacred texts forming an older but still living tradition. It is for this reason that the Gita is also known as “The Upanishads sung in verse”.

Aham Brahmasi

I am God (Brahman)


The ego.

Ajnana or Avidya

Ignorance. That which is opposed to Truth.


The real Self of man which underlies the phenomenal pesonality and is identical with God (Brahman).

Bhagavad Gita

The Song of the Lord. A celebrated Sanskrit poem in which God, incarnated as Krishna, instructs his pupil Prince Arjuna in Yoga.

Brahma Sutra

The word sutra means a thread and the word “Brahma” here stands for Brahman, the absolute spirit, not to be confused with Brahma, a god among other gods in Hinduism. The Brahma Sutras aim to thread the teachings concerning Brahman in the vast literature of the Upanishads. Consisting of 550 sutras, they are very brief but of such density of meaning that a commentary is needed to illuminate them.

Various commentaries have been made over the centuries, including one by a great genius of interpretation, Shankaracharya the 8th century architect of the school of

Advaita Vedanta. Something like 10% of his work on these sutras is devoted to reconciling the apparently conflicting sacred texts that the aphorisms draw upon, to show that their non-conflicting resolution lies in the demonstration that all show the universe to be the product of intelligent and purposeful origin.


The practice of self-discipline including celibacy and the service of a spiritual teacher.


The Sanskrit name of the one-who-is-without-a-second as described under the term Advaita, see above. This is intended to convey the impersonal Spirit without attributes. The word derives from a root meaning “to make great, to evolve”.


A member of the highest or priestly caste in India.


Country district near Mathura where Krishna lived· as a child.


The founder of Buddhism, an incarnation of God who taught in the 6th century B.C.


The highest part of the psychological equipment of a person. It is the capacity by which one can tell right from wrong, what course of action to choose among those available, the ability to discern what is a good decision and to actually make it and stick to it, and in yoga, the ability to understand the meaning of the sacred texts under instruction and to recognize spiritual truth. Buddhi has the sense of being awake, alert. In the Buddhi lie the sleeping powers of contemplation and insight that are routinely unsuspected by its owner. However if the urge to go beyond what we are now begins to live, accompanied by training in meditation practice and spiritual discipline, this may change. Like the mind in general, it is an instrument that can be darkened or lightened by our choices and by our way of life.


The name of the compiler or author of an ancient treatise on the Indian form of medicine, known as Ayur Veda. The date is uncertain, perhaps between the 4th and 2nd centuries B.C. (See also Sushruta).


The faculty of memory and imagination.


What is right – according to time, place and occasion, with the sacred texts as the reliable guide – this is the basis of the order in the universe and the moral behaviour of the individual. It is ‘what is to be done’. Dharma comes with a definite sense of choice, and also encompasses the suitability of the type of person, such as, in the typology of ancient India, a warrior, a priest, the merchant or trader, and one who provides service. However it equally and always comes with obligation, specifically to provide spiritual help to others when we are able to do so, and in a spirit of renunciation. In the great epic of India known as the Mahabharata there is a passage that says, “All other dharmas are contained in harmlessness (ahimsa) just as the foot-prints of all other animals are contained in those of an elephant.” Although ahiinsa is a supremely high ideal for human life, according to Shankara the path to spiritual knowledge followed by spiritual freedom is the highest ideal, and to a man or woman on this path, all other dharmas are subservient. However it will be clear to students of the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita that the moral and spiritual refinement needed to tread the spiritual path requires degrees of compassion, honesty and harmlessness far beyond the standards usually attained in everyday life.


A stage in meditation.


Sight. A word used as a synonym for a system of philosophy.

Gaudapada’s Karikas

Verses that are comments on the Mandukya Upanishad, which is dated about 200 AD and is the last of the eleven classical Upanishads commented on by Shankara. Traditionally Gaudapada is held to be the teacher of Shankara’s teacher, and the verses of the Karikas that he composed are of immense authority, and through time came to be taken as part of the Upanishad itself.


Wave-like principle or mode which pervades the whole of creation, There are three gunas, namely sattva (harmony), rajas (activity), and tamas (inertia).

THE THREE GUNAS Running through microcosm and macrocosm, like the threads of which a cloth is woven, are the three ‘constituents’ (gunas) of Maya, “known as sattva, rajas and tamas. The Bhagavad Gita says ( 18.40): “There is no creature on earth or again in heaven among the Gods who is free from the three gunas of Maya.” Rajas guna typifies activity in all its forms whereas tamas demonstrates the opposite tendency of inertia. Sattva guna stands for balance, purity, light and peace. Everything in the world, material and psychological, inner and outer, is pervaded by the gunas and can be classified according to the predominating guna. Though necessarily incomplete, the following table illustrates the manifestation of the three gunas in the outer world and in the inner world of the mind:-


Sattva Rajas Tamas
Light Life  Darkness
Balance Force Mass
Order Movement Inertia
Happiness Desire Fear
Equanimity Restlessness Laziness
Balanced judgment Passion Stupidity

The state of society and international relations simply reflect the inner condition of man. Wars and strife are the externalization of inner conflicts. Thus the betterment of  society and the maintenance of peace between nations, according the Yoga, depend less upon economic and political moves than upon men establishing inner harmony m their own minds by the cultivation of sattva, in other words by first becoming “at peace with themselves”. The veil of Maya, which obscures the true nature of the Self, is so to speak thinnest where sattva predominates, and conversely is thickest where tamas predominates. Tamas conceals the Self as if under a heavy quilt; rajas does so by throwing up distractions and agitations which engage the attention of the soul. Emphasis is therefore laid on the cultivation of purity of the mind by ethical discipline, without which the practice of Yoga is of no more use than trying to fill a bottle with water by holding it upside down under a tap


Spiritual teacher.


A name of God especially applied to His incarnation as Krishna.


The Southern school of Buddhism.

Hatha Yoga

The Yoga concerned with physical exercises.


The chief of the gods of India known for his strength, control of rain and other cosmic functions, and as a potent slayer of demons.


The personal aspect of God. The Creator of the Universe.


Ever-moving. The world of experience.


The individual soul of man.


A liberated soul. One who has realised his identity with the

real Self (Atman).


Liberation of the individual soul from the imprisoning force of nescience (avidya) while living in the body.



Action in all its forms, present, past, future with strong implications of merit, demerit and the unavoidability of consequences following inevitably from causes. However the chief point made about action is that the human being by intense application of devotion, will or concentration, can break what may appear to be an inevitable chain of consequences. We can change. Action can be given a spiritual character when applied unselfishly in the way of spiritual training.

Karma Yogis

This is the spiritual path followed by men and women who feel a sense of agency in action, based on the experience and vision of life as a real difference between self as a limited individual, and other such individuals, with God, or the spiritual reality, as an outside and other existence. It is in other words the path to be followed by almost all of us who live in the world.

The steps taken on this path are as follows: meditation on prescribed texts such as the Bhagavad Gita (or any sacred text, such as the Gospels) leading gradually to intense meditation, action performed without a feeling of entitlement to the results of the action, brave endurance of the hot and cold winds of life whether externally or internally, all performed as worship of the Lord, or the spiritual principle standing within and also beyond the cosmos.


An incarnation of God who gave the teachings on Yoga recorded in the Bhagavad Gita


A great soul


The lower functions of the mind.


Traditional formula which, when correctly repeated, is a powerful instrument for purifying, strengthening and enlightening the mind.


The Sect of Mantra taken to Japan by Kobo Daishi.


The power of the Lord which causes the entire universe to emerge and to appear as real.


A word that means something wrong, misleading, incorrect, relating to appearance only and not real, for instance a feeling of thirst due to illness. It is used many times by Shankara in his commentary on the Bhagavad Gita.


Release of the soul from the cycle of birth and death. Spiritual illumination.


A practice of nerve and muscle-control.

Nirvikalpa, Savikalpa, Vikalpa

The basic term is “vikalpa”, which means a logical construct with no actual object to which it corresponds. One of the examples given is as follows: “The arrow has ceased its flight.” The predicate “has-ceased-its-flight” is not a real predicate, but a purely logical construct to describe the arrow; there is no object to which the non-flight of the arrow corresponds.

The term nir-vikalpa, means “without vikalpa” that is to say without any (illusory) verbal qualification(s). In the spiritual psychology the existence of limits and conditions -time, place, being embodied, cause-and-effect – that accompany our routine experience does not mean that these limits and conditions hold sway over all possible experience.

The state known as samadhi in traditions of meditation practice is generally referred to as a trance-like state. Such a state is at the limit of what the mind, which is the instrument that deals in variety and multiplicity, can sustain before it subsides in the underlying consciousness, of which it is only one manifestation, somewhat like the mind that appears to evaporate just as we enter sleep. Mind is meant to be transcended, but in samadhi it may prevail just like an afterimage of the illumination of the spirit or Brahman. This state is known as Savikalpa, or with – verbal- associations, and after it drops off all associations in words and thought and memory there is a state without such associations, known as Nirvikalpa.

We describe in words something that is without words, like a schoolteacher who says to the class, “Quiet please”: her words are not quiet, but they point to something, and can on occasion bring about something, that is.



The highest name of God.


A learned man, sometimes signifying a spiritually learned man.


The supreme self within the human personality, always at peace.


The compiler of the classical Yoga Sutras, the authoritative text on meditation and mind training. (There is also a grammarian known as Patanjali, believed to have flourished in the 2nd Century BCE, once thought by some to be the same person, but following the work of the great French Indologist Louis Renou, 1896 – 1966, they are no longer thought to be so.) The philosophical presuppositions behind the system expounded in the Yoga Sutras are dualistic, and based on the acceptance that the world is real, assumptions that are at variance with the philosophy of Advaita, which see above. Nonetheless the Yoga Sutras are unsurpassed as the classical exposition of mind training in India.


The world in the material sense, actual and potential, subtle and gross, material and energetic, all phases of what is and can be so described.


Control of vital forces through breath control.


Withdrawal of the mind from objects preliminary to the higher meditation.


See Guna.

Rama (Ramachandra)

An incarnation of God whose history is recorded in the epic poem Ramayana.

Rama Tirtha

A celebrated Yogi and mathematician (1873-1906).


Spiritually perfect man.


The ‘witness’ consciousness.


Samadhi is the peak of meditation, the point at which the sense of two things, the meditator and the object meditated upon, begins to evaporate. Oneness prevails.




This changing world.


Impressions from thoughts, words or actions that are (and will continue to remain) out of sight of the conscious mind, but which still have life and a longing for life in them, like a seed that has been planted. One might call them the Resurrection Impulses. The Sanskaras are often the internal but hidden deciders of what will ensue in any given situation, psychologically speaking, even against the conscious will of the person acting, and to onlookers they almost always give rise to the impression of a person’s character and predictability. Duly transformed by yoga, they can be made harmless.

Instinctive reactions are often manifestations of sanskaras at play, especially when the reactor mistakenly thinks that he or she owns them: “it is how I am, live with it!” Such responses may disclose a person unable to picture themselves otherwise, and consequently unable to work on themselves, which is a denial of our ability to change.

Because Sanskaras are deeply hidden, they have the power to limit what we can see by narrowing our awareness, often by means of what we can call inner traffic lights that have only two registers namely, “I like this” and “I don’t like that”. If a third register could be developed, “Pause, and see where this is leading”, the course of life might change, but this cannot be brought about by a mere decision. A real and sustained wish to change, and deep methods such as meditation, the attempt to live in conscious pursuit of higher goals, and the thinning of selfishness, these are needed to influence and to neutralise the controlling power of Sanskaras. A central practical point of training is that we can drive, or be driven, and the more passive we are, the more the Sanskaras will drive.

When some progress has been made to loosen the hold of these impulses on us, then a new path may open up. To acquire a living awareness that sanskaras exist in us is itself a substantial step.


Old language in which most of the classics on Yoga are written.


See Guna.


God symbolized as the sun.



Shankara also known as Shri Shankaracharya

The most famous philosopher of ancient India, architect of the system known as Advaita or Advaita Vedanta. He lived in the 8th century and acknowledged that he was by no means the first in the tradition that he represented, one that he regarded as ancient.


Bliss. Also a God in the Hindu Trinity.

Shri Dada

A great Yogi who chose to teach among the poor of Northern India (1854-1910).






The compiler of an ancient treatise on the Indian form of medicine, known as Ayur Veda. See above under Charaka.


Aphorism by means of which the teaching, in a highly condensed form, can be committed to memory.




See guna.


Practice of self-control and self-abnegation.

Tattvam Asi

That Thou Art. One of the great mystic utterances implying the identity of God and the individual soul.


Mystical treatises in prose and verse.


Desirelessness. Non-attachment to objects.


Merchant caste among Hindus.


Latent tendency in the mind caused by the impressions of past experiences.


Divine knowledge. The four VEDAS (Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva) are collections of religious hymns and rituals which are the oldest known books in the world.


System of philosophy based on the Upanishads.


Philosophical enquiry.


The physical universe as a manifestation of God.


Knowledge of the difference between the spirit, which is not an object, and the mind, which is an object.


Union. The science of union of the individual soul with God.


One who practises Yoga.

Back to series