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TARUN SARDANA
Interview with non duality magazine
Tarun Sardana

 

Founder of KnowI, Author of the book ‘Dissolved’

Tarun has worked as a successful software professional both in India and abroad. He has a diverse and extensive experience of over 10 years in the same. He quit his successful corporate career as a project manager with a fortune 500 company to devote the rest of his time in knowing the “I”. The “I” which we use n number of times in our conversations throughout the day, but still don’t really understand it. This is how 'KnowI' was born.

Tarun is also an author of the book titled ‘Dissolved’, which is based on ‘Advaita’ (non duality). The book was released in October 2009 and has already gained popularity amongst the non duality followers both in India and abroad.

An ardent advaita believer, Tarun believes in Oneness and love for all existence. His writings and speeches are permeated by a scientific and practical approach, emphasizing the need to understand the “I” through which one lives in the world before spending time in knowing or understanding anything else. He believes this is the highest knowledge one can get and this is the only knowledge which can lead to true freedom.

 

NDM: Can you please tell me how you became interested in non-duality?

Tarun Sardana: "I had no idea of what is nonduality and still have no idea :-) Somehow from somewhere the question of who is this 'I' kind of appeared and that's how I got to know about Ramana Maharishi and Nisargadatta Maharaj. "  
 
NDM: Was this through reading books about them or otherwise?
 
Tarun Sardana: No I had never heard of them till then. It was just one day, I came across the question 'who am I' and I got to know about Maharishi and then through one of the website links about Maharaj. I have not read much of their work or teaching. I feel the the enquiry in itself is sufficient unless one is looking for entertainment :-) 

NDM: Then what happened?  Did you find a teacher of some sort or did you enquire into this question on your own?

Tarun Sardana: I think the question is the teacher itself. Because the question brings the mind back to the 'I' for which the mind does everything. This 'I' is the center around which all our actions revolve. So this question is a very powerful question if it really struck someone, I don't think, one will go and look out for a teacher. The question will not allow one to do anything else.

NDM: When you talk about this "I", what do you mean by it?  What is this "I" ?

Tarun Sardana: It is this only, an alphabet written in capitals with double quotes and nothing more than that :-)

 

 

Ramana Maharishi age 21

 

NDM:  Why do you say that this question will not allow someone to go and look for a teacher or an external guru of some kind?  Many others have asked this same question and then have left for India for example and asked help from someone like Nisargadatta Maharaj? 

Were you able to do this enquiry alone, without anyone's guidance?

Tarun Sardana: See, if the question really strucks, it takes all the attention and so it doesn't give much room to do anything else. When this question arrives, it also brings with it all the necessary means. And you are right, the means could be guru, books, or sleepless nights. It could be anything and is different for everyone. However, all these means will not give an answer to this question but would rather keep sending the mind back to the question. In my case as well the same thing happened, the existence always guided the mind through constant enquiry.

NDM: So how did you do this self enquiry?  Did you meditate on this question? Sit, or other means?

Tarun Sardana: My upbringing has happened in a very spiritual family. So from childhood I was already into lot of prayers and hours of meditation. However, the enquiry reversed the attention from meditation to the meditator. And once it moves to the meditator, it gives you sleepless nights :-) One will keep sitting looking within to see who is this 'I' for which one is doing everything.

NDM:  When you say the switch moves from the attention being on the meditation to the meditator, what was it that brought about this shift ? 

Was it the meditation itself? Was there an opening, a glimpse of some kind or an experience? What happened exactly and how long did this take?

Tarun Sardana: John, following was the answer I gave in one of the interviews to a very similar question. See, if this helps and throws some light on your question.

"My Grand Ma and my mother have always been associated with Satsangs. Therefore, prayers, chanting have been a regular routine of our daily lives. My grand ma used to read a lot of scriptures and narrate various stories of devotion and love towards that Almighty to us. So there was always an inner urge, a very strong one in fact to know the Supreme and to always be in HIS shelter.  I used to spend hours just sitting and contemplating on the ‘UNKNOWN’. I spent years doing that! There were times when I just stopped talking to my friends and family and used to spend most of my time in solitude. There were various spiritual experiences that built my faith in HIM stronger and stronger each time. However, there was something that was always bothering me. Despite those experiences, I often encountered feelings of anger, hatred, or desire. This used to really bother me and I used to question the Almighty that when I have surrendered before you, it becomes your responsibility to protect me from these vices. Why is it happening repeatedly? I was becoming restless day by day. I was in UAE during that time and as I had limited access to scriptures, I had at home; therefore I used to spend most of my time reading scriptures online. It was one of those evenings when I came across an article with someone’s photograph next to it. The moment I saw a photograph, I closed that page immediately as I am a strong disbeliever of a ‘physical Guru’ concept. Then the same thing happened again, I again came across one of the article with the same photograph. And I closed it again. I think it happened quiet a few times then one day, I was browsing the web and came across an article “Who AM I” on www.hinduism.co.za. It was “Who AM I” enquiry by Ramana Maharishi. The article had no photograph of Maharishi. When I went to Maharishis’ website, I found out it was the same photograph that I had seen a couple of times when I had closed the page. The question ‘Who Am I’ was something that led the mind to thinking that who is the one to whom these feelings of anger, hatred or desire are happening. For the first time the mind was not questioning these feelings or questioning the Supreme- why these feelings are arising but questioning the one to whom these feelings are arising. This marked a complete turn around in the so-called search from knowing the Supreme to knowing the “I”. "

The switch was brought by the question by Maharishi "Who am I" and after that I think the enquiry took several weeks. It is not actually the enquiry but the understanding that this 'I' is nothing but an idea that takes time to get firmly established. I think this continued for another 18 months or 2 years.
No, there was no glimpse or experience. On enquiring when the thoughts naturally slows down, the awareness which is in the background comes to the foreground. however, the enquiry should not stop here. the enquiry should continue because the 'I' is not the awareness or consciousness.

NDM: It sounds like you were practicing Bhatki yoga. What kind of scripture were you reading exactly? 

Tarun Sardana: Satvastu Ka Kudrati Granth, Bhagwad Gita, Ramayan, Shree Guru Granth Sahib were the few scriptures that we used to read at home.

NDM: Did you also practice karma yoga?

Tarun Sardana: If you follow Bhakti yoga, Karma Yoga happens naturally. On the path of devotion, one tends to devote all his actions to the supreme and accepts the results without any prejudice. And the same is true with Karma yoga, if one practices karma yoga, bhakti happens automatically, all your actions become your offering to the supreme.

NDM: When you say you were just sitting, did you also meditate as with samadhi (one pointed concentration), vipassana (insight meditation as they refer to it in Buddhism) and so on?

Or was it more like hearing, reading, uninterrupted contemplation, (nididhyasana) and reflecting on the scripture  (manana) or this "who am I" question?  

Tarun Sardana:  Regarding samadhi or vipassana are concerned, I am not sure what all mind went through. The enquiry just struck the mind and it used to be absorbed mostly in it. After the mind is absorbed in the enquiry, the thoughts slow down so samadhi and vipassana they all happen naturally.

 

NDM:  What about some of the prerequisites and practices mentioned by Adi Shankara and others such as Shad-Sampat, the sixfold virtues of Sama, Dama, Uparati, Titiksha, Sraddha and Samadhana?

Tarun Sardana: They sound nice but why should one do that?

NDM:  Well, according to Vedanta, as well as the tradition of yoga, they say that if one does not, the odds are you will not have equanimity for one? They are supposed to bring about concentration, mental discipline, self control of the senses and more.  It also prepares one to concentrate the mind like a laser beam during self enquiry and as a result helps to purify the vasansas (likes and dislikes).   In a sense, it is like cleaning the stains out of the soiled cloth before it is dipped in a vat to be dyed a brilliant color.   Metaphorically speaking it is also preparation for the knowledge to sink in.

Sri Sankaracharya says that the student must be equipped with the four means of salvation. Viveka, (discrimination),  Vairagya, (dispassion),  Mumukshutva, (intense longing for liberation), as well Shad-sampat, the 6 virtues already mentioned.

Concerning yoga practice, Sri Sawmi Sivananda also said it requires having a "pure mind". That this is an essential condition for Brahman to be known. see here.

He also said "Now-a-days there are plenty of 'Talking Brahman'. No flowery talk or verbosity can make a man Brahman. It is constant, intense, earnest Sadhana and Sadhana alone can give a man direct Aparoksha Brahmic realization (Svanubhava or Sakshatkara) wherein he sees Brahman just as he sees the solid white wall in front of him and feels Brahman, just as he feels the table behind him. Practice, practice, practice and become established in Brahman."

Do you believe you can feel Braham like a solid white wall in front of you without this type of Sadhana?

Tarun Sardana: I feel no practice can make a man Brahman. And as far as feeling Brahman like a solid white wall, I would first investigate why should I feel Brahman like a solid wall before I go ahead and put any efforts or sadhana into it.

NDM: So how do you feel Braham?

Tarun Sardana: Again the question is why should one feel Brahman? What is Brahman and why should it be felt? Why should it be seen?

NDM:  Sarvam khalv idam brahma - All this verily Brahman. (Chhandogya Upanishad) All that we see in the world is Brahman.  What are your thoughts on this?

Tarun Sardana: You didn't answer what is Brahman but yes you are right. All that we see is Brahman but what about the one who sees it, is it Brahman?

NDM: How can a tongue taste its own taste buds? How can an iris see its own pupil? 

Tarun Sardana: So we got the riddle solved :-) one who is seeing is Brahman and one which is being seen is Brahman. Then why those rigorous practices should be done? Whether one does those practices or not, Brahman will still be Brahman. Therefore, the need to realize and establish in the Brahman is not the need of Brahman. Brahman doesn't want that.

NDM:  Yes but what about vasanas and samskaras?

Tarun Sardana: :-) When you say that it is Brahman on both the sides then where did these vasanas come from?

NDM: The absolute Brahman is nirguna (without attributes) ineffable and un-manifested.  The relative empirical - manifested Brahman is related to the world that we see around us and experience with our senses.  It is avidya (ignorance) of not knowing who we are and confusing the absolute and the relative level which is also the problem.

This relative, worldly level is also where vasanas (likes and dislikes) come into the picture.

So, how does one make these vasanas non-binding?

Tarun Sardana: There is no need to make these vasanas unbinding. As you said vasanas are borne out of maya or ignorance.
The root problem is ignorance not vasana. Vasana is just the symptom. Just let the mind investigate the 'I', and maya becomes known. Once the root of the problem is caught, symptoms automatically disappear.
John, Brahman as you said is Brahman whether on absolute or relative level. It doesn't make any difference to Brahman whether the mind full of vasanas realizes it or not. It may make a difference to the mind but not to the Brahman. There are lot of masters who claim that they see or feel Brahman. However, if you will peep in their house when they are asleep and whisper slowly, are you still seeing or feeling Brahman?

You will get no answer because the knowledge and feeling is there only when a master is awake and it sleeps when the master sleeps. 

So that knowing is not part of the no mind state as most of the master claims. It is very much part of the mind state. Earlier the mind was stuck with 'I am so and so' knowledge and now it is stuck with 'I am Brahman' knowledge. Beyond that nothing else has happened. Only the content of the mind has been replaced. If the former content was ego than the latter is spiritual ego.  

NDM: Can you tell me about this KnowI. It says that it is "dedicatedly involved in promoting and facilitating the Self knowledge, i.e. the knowledge of 'I', through various mediums like books, articles, workshops, and trainings.'

What kind of trainings are these that you teach? 

KnowI is just a small initiative through which I conduct small workshops on basic topics like studies, peer-relationships, respect etc. for school students. It is not related with non-duality in any way :-) These are free workshops, not paid that I usually do in my free time. I think only once I charged the school for basic transport etc. as they wanted it to be done throughout the year. And KnowI is not an ngo which accepts any donations to support these activities. Whatever I can save through my personal savings or otherwise is use in KnowI. I don't offer any talks and I don't teach any spiritual or enlightening stuff because I am myself not enlightened :-) So no awakening retreats with free lunches stuff :-) And anyway, world is already full of so many enlightened teachers and masters that to create an equilibrium we need more of ordinary un-enlightened beings now :-)
 
However, there were couple of friends who used to visit me and ask some stuff after they had read Dissolved so that conversation we have compiled in the form of a new book that I may release in a month or so and it is very much related to the conversation that we had today about Brahman.

NDM: When you say that you are not enlightened, who is there not to be enlightened?

Tarun Sardana: The same being with whom you are doing this interview is there. I will not say that interview is happening on its own or talk is just happening but no one is really there:-) There is a bundle of knowledge which is there who is answering all your questions and this bundle is not enlightened if something called as enlightenment really exist.

NDM: So what is enlightenment then?

Tarun Sardana:To be honest, I really have no idea what it is and for whom.

NDM: Was there a particular moment in time when an understanding or knowledge took place? When this switch occurred from being identified with Tarun's body/mind to being identified with something other than this?

Tarun Sardana: When I was doing the enquiry a sudden shift happened to the awareness.

NDM: Then at this point did this awareness/knowledge of this awareness stick or did it go back and forth like before?

Tarun Sardana When the shift to the awareness happens, it shakes one completely...as it is completely opposed to the mind-body identification one is taught from childhood and then it takes form of immense joy that fills the body. I don't know how to put it but it is like some high that one experiences so it continued for I don't know weeks or months may be....however, I continued with the enquiry and noticed the 'I' was not this awareness as well...it was just the knowledge of this awareness...till the time 'I' was identified as awareness, the efforts used to be there to abide in the awareness...back and forth to mind-body identification used to happen...continuous practice...continuous remembrance used to be there...but once the 'I' was disidentified from the awareness as well, efforts also dropped...

I see people talking and teaching about how the awakening happened to them and they became one with awareness...there are many modern advaita teachers who talk about this supreme truth of  'I am awareness'...they are teaching and conducting retreats for the same...but i still don't know how it happened to them and how will they do it for others. 'I' can never merge in the awareness forever. 'I' is the knowledge it is just a pointer.

NDM:  So how is it now? What has changed since then if anything? If someone asks you who or what are you, how do you answer them?

Tarun Sardana: Nothing has really changed. I still don't see or feel Brahman as a solid white wall :-) The changes only happen at the content level. The understanding of 'I', you, me or situations gets little changed.
 
If someone will ask me who i am. I will still give the same answer as before. You cannot go and tell everyone that the 'I' don't exist :-) Government will not take that answer, Tarun will still have to pay taxes whether Tarun in reality exists or not. Tarun will still have to earn the living, take care of the family even if Tarun is just an idea. The truth is anyway not that the 'I' does not exist. The truth is 'I' which is the knowledge exists as an idea or a thought and it stays till the time beingness stays in the body. Let it stay. When the time to leave will come, it will leave. And during the stay whatever needs to be done will have to be done. Why should one work for this 'I' to realize or be one with Brahman? Right now it is temporary. Is it not? Just a temporary knowledge which is there as long as the beingness is there and will leave as soon as the beingness leaves. Why to make it permanent and invite the trouble. When you can eat fruits without climbing the tree why to bother climbing the tree? :-)

NDM: When you say eat fruits without climbing the tree, what kind of fruits are you talking about?

Tarun Sardana: I knew it this is what you gonna ask :-) see, why to invite the trouble knowing and realizing Brahman when the knower is not going to be there anyway...why to climb the tree and put unnecessary efforts...for such a temporary thing like 'I' why would you need eternal happiness?...if 'I' is going to be there till eternity, do all that...when it is not going to be there till eternity, why to bother with all that?

NDM: What about to alleviate things like suffering, fear, aversions, doubt?

Tarun Sardana:  Suffering, fear, pain, aversions, doubt all those imply to the 'I'. so better invest time in understanding this 'I' than looking up to Brahman for all these. That's why I said when you can eat the fruits without climbing the tree why bother climbing the tree.

NDM: So you are saying that practices like Shad-Sampat, the sixfold virtues of Sama, Dama, Uparati, Titiksha, Sraddha and Samadhana are unnecessary.  If you skip these and go directly to atma vicara (self enquiry), that is enough to end all of the suffering, fear, aversions and desires?

If that is the case, then why did these teachers that you mentioned, Ramana and others like him do these stringent practices? Ramana practiced and meditated for 20 years in a cave after his childhood realization to get to the clear understanding that he had. This is not saying that one needs to live in a cave for 20 years, but there is a purpose to these practices.

Tarun Sardana: I am not saying any practice is necessary or unnecessary. If one thinks these practices lead to Brahman and he is interested in knowing or feeling Brahman, he should go ahead and do them. And I am not even saying that self enquiry leads to end of all suffering or aversions or all that stuff. I am saying these things pertains to the 'I', so better place to look for their source is 'I'.
 
What Maharishi did one cannot understand by reading books about him. We can only understand what he says or means by following the method that he gave. So if anyone is interested in knowing and understanding Maharishi, one should follow his method, one should follow his advice. If that is the method he has prescribed like following Shad-Sampat or doing stringent practices, and someone really wants to be like Maharishi, he should very much do all that.
 
NDM:  If you have skipped certain steps like the ones mentioned above, do you believe this will bring true liberation?
 
Tarun Sardana: I don't know if one is really bound except for in one's head. What is true liberation, anyway? I would really like to understand.  

NDM: What do you see as being liberation?

Tarun Sardana: I don't know. It is a very vague word. Liberation in itself is incomplete. Liberation from what would make it more precise.
 

About the Book - Dissolved

The journey to the Self is a little complicated:
The more one walks towards it, the farther it goes;
The moment one stops, one finds oneself there.
 

 

For more info visit

www.knowi.org