When I was in Shrinagar, Kashmir, I met a great scholar of Vedanta who was head of the department of philosophy in a renowned university. He said, “If I can answer your questions, I will be glad to do so.”

How can you possibly learn subtle truths with a swollen ego?

So I put these questions to him: “The Upanishads appear to be full of contradictions. In one place they say that Brahman is one without a second. Somewhere else they say that everything is Brahman. In a third place they say this world is false and Brahman alone is truth. And in a fourth place it is said that there is only one absolute reality beneath all these diversities. How can one make sense out of these conflicting statements?”

He replied, “I don’t know how to answer a swami’s questions. You are learning to be a swami of the Shankaracharya order. You should know the answers better than I.”

I went to many other learned people, but nobody could satisfy me. They could give me commentaries on different Upanishads, but no one could resolve these apparent contradictions. Eventually I went to a swami near Uttarkashi, 135 miles deep in the Himalayas. His name was Vishnu Maharaj. He was always naked, having no clothes or any other possessions. I said to him, “I want to know something about the Upanishads.”

He said, “Bow down first. You are asking about the Upanishads with a swollen ego. How can you possibly learn these subtle truths?”

I did not like to bow down before anyone, so I left his place. After that, whenever I inquired about the Upanishads I was told, “Go to Vishnu Maharaj. No one else can answer you.” But I didn’t want to ask him because he knew that my whole problem was my ego, and he immediately tested me by saying, “Bow down and then I will answer your question.” I wouldn’t do that. I tried my best to find other swamis who could answer these questions, but everyone I asked referred me to Vishnu Maharaj.

Every day I would approach the cave where he lived on a bank of the Ganges. I would think, “Let me see how he answers my questions.” But when I got near I would become very fearful of the impending confrontation, so I would change my mind and go back.

One day he saw me nearby and said, “Come, sit down. Are you hungry? Do you want to eat with me?” He was very pleasant and gracious. He gave me food and drink and then said, “Now you should go. I have no more time to spend with you today.”

Food and drink I can get elsewhere. I want spiritual food.

I said, “I have come with certain questions, sir. Food and drink I can get elsewhere. I want spiritual food.” He said, “You are not prepared. In your mind you want to examine me; you want to know whether I can answer your questions or not; you don’t want to learn. When you are prepared, come to me and I will answer you.” The next day I became very humble and I said, “Sir, the whole night I prepared myself, and now I’m ready!”

Then he taught me, and all my questions were resolved. Answering my questions systematically, he said that there are no contradictions in the teachings of the Upanishads. These teachings are received directly by the great sages in a deep state of contemplation and meditation.

He explained, “When the student starts practicing, he realizes that this apparent world is changeable, while truth never changes. Then he knows that the world of forms and names which is full of changes is false, and that behind it there exists an absolute reality that is unchanging.

In the second step, when he has known the truth, he understands that there is only one truth and that truth is omnipresent, so there is really nothing like falsehood. In that stage he knows that reality which is one and the same in both the finite and infinite worlds. But there is another—higher—state in which the aspirant realizes that there is only one absolute reality without second, and that that which is apparently false is in reality a manifestation of the absolute One.

Intuitive knowledge alone leads to understanding the Upanishads.

These apparent contradictions confuse only that student who has not studied the Upanishads from a competent teacher. A competent teacher makes the student aware of the experiences one has on various levels. These are the levels of consciousness, and there is no contradiction in them.”

He continued: “The teachings of the Upanishads are not understood by the ordinary mind or even by the intellectual mind. Intuitive knowledge alone leads to understanding them.”

In fact, I wanted to strengthen the knowledge which I had received from my master, and knowingly posed such questions to others. The sages never answer questions posed without humbleness. The questions are resolved by humility itself. This great man taught me to rise above intellectual arguments and instructed me to allow intuition to flow uninterruptedly to answer such subtle questions.

Source: Humble, Happy & Wise (Swami Rama)
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Stories of the Sages