IN THE LAST COLUMN I SPOKE about how I came to find my feet on Atmananda’s Direct Path. I took a large leap, however, in assuming that my readers know of him. A year ago I’d never paid any attention to him myself. I remember seeing his photo from time to time, and I’d heard the name, but I’d never looked into him. Now, in one of the strange twists that Nonduality often takes, I find that he, or at least his teaching, is the star around which I orbit. Let’s take a look at him now.
SRI ATMANANDA IS THE BEST KEPT open secret in spirituality. He was born in southern India in 1883, just four years after the birth of Sri Ramana Maharshi. The two of them, along with Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, would become the holy trinity of Twentieth Century Advaita Vedanta. Their impact is not only carrying over to this century, it is growing almost exponentially. Much of today’s interest in Advaita and Nonduality as a whole is the result of what these three men left us. “Men” seems too small of a word. Regardless, given that I had been studying different streams of the Nondual river for a long, long time, and was well versed in the other two legs of the stool, why had I never looked into Atmananda?
THE ANSWER IS BOOKS, or the lack thereof. In contrast to Ramana and Nisargadatta, whose teachings are a cottage industry in publishing, Shri Atmananda’s books are either all out of print, or very difficult to acquire, and thus effectively out of print. This is not from a lack of interest. His books fetch high prices in the used and antiquarian book trade. I’m a bookseller; I know. I’m a consumer, however, not a seller of these titles, and all I can say is ouch! What I’m told, by an expert, is that essentially the folks with the copyrights don’t feel that the books can be truly understood without the physical presence of either Atmananda or his eldest son, Shri Adwayananda. Since both of them are dead (1959, 2001), it’s rather difficult to sign up with them. And thus we are denied direct access to the Direct Path. Ironic, is it not?
A THREE-VOLUME SERIES, Notes of Spiritual Discourses of Shri Atmananda, Taken by Nitya Tripta, are now made available by the combined efforts of Nonduality Press and the Stillness Speaks website. It’s a wonderful resource and it’s inexpensive. One link of interest is the Amazon page where the first of these books can be bought. My review is also there if you’d like to read it at: http://tinyurl.com/7ql8ert. One more link is to a page that’ll allow you to save a PDF of a selection from his most famous books. They not the complete books, but they’re nonetheless helpful. You want to right click on the link and then “Save link as”: http://tinyurl.com/88unyug
THE PRIME FOCUS OF ATMANANDA’S TEACHING, the reason it’s called the Direct Path, is that westart from the I-principle, from the position of our already being Awareness. One doesn’t need to set out to discover yourself if you’re always already here. To bring this home, Atmananda has us rigorously investigate everything. From numii.net:
According to Sri Atmananda, it is absolutely necessary to know what you are and what your standpoint is, if you want to arrive at the right knowing, or to put it another way, to see the right perspective. It is not enough to only investigate the waking state for that purpose, because your experience extends also into the dream and into deep (dreamless) sleep states. Let us then initiate an investigation into these three states. You will discover that the I-principle (the true unchanging Self) is continuously present in each of the three states. The body, the senses and the mind are present in one state, but they are not there in the others. From that it follows that the I-principle is unjustly coupled with the body, the senses and the mind and that in reality it is independent of these three. That can be seen in the deep (dreamless) sleep, where it shines in all its bliss. You can see there that the pure Consciousness is a deep Peace. When you awaken out of the deep sleep you then say that you were happy (that you slept deeply and peacefully).
ONE OF THE REALLY SALIENT POINTS about Atmananda is that he spoke English, which is now very nearly a global language. It is impossible to downplay the significance of this direct connection. Neither Ramana nor Nisargadatta spoke English. How important is this? If you have read different translations of, say, the Tao Te Ching, the Dhammapada, or the Bhagavad Gita, you understand the inherent imperfections within the art of translation. We get the gist of what was said and meant, and it may be “enough”, but by the same token, in spiritual teachings, a miss can be a mile. You don’t need to be a Sanskrit scholar to get the full benefit of Krishna Menon, nor dependent on the understanding and translation talents of another; you can simply read his own words, straight from his mouth to your mind. Beyond this invaluable difference, the method of the Direct Path, because it begins at the end and works backward, so to speak, can be effective where nothing else has been.
SOME OF THE CURRENT TEACHERS who are true authorities on the Direct Path teachings are Francis Lucille and Rupert Spira. Both of them are excellent writers and convey the message extremely well. The Direct Path might be worth your looking into. Namaste.
Some of you will notice that I did not, in fact, continue here from the last column with my own experience of the Direct Path, and that I dropped “Part I” from that post’s title. After some reflection, it did not seem prudent to go into any detail about my understanding or perspective of that just now.
A note on language: Whether written as “shri” or “sri”, the word is an Indian honorific denoting a great guru. Because I always use “sri” for Ramana and Nisargadatta, I’ve chosen that form here for Atmananda as well. Either would be correct. “Krishna Menon” can also be written “Krishnamenon”. Again, either is correct; I’ve used the more common form.