Introduction to the Original Tamil Version
Of the four human ends, namely dharma (virtuous and harmonious life), artha (material prosperity), kama (desires) and moksha (Liberation), Liberation is the most important. There are several Vedantic books in the Sanskrit and Prakrit languages which describe this Liberation which is one of the cessation of misery and the attainment of bliss. Among these there is a rare book known as Vichara Sagaram written in Hindi by Sadhu Nischaldas, a learned and enlightened (lit. established in Brahman) Sage. It has been translated into Tamil, but this Tamil version being rather lengthy, the Maharshi at the request of the late M. R. Arunachala Mudaliar of Tiruvannamalai, the foremost among the pious devotees of Siva, made a selection of some of the gem-like thoughts in it. Believing that it would be of use to those excellent and calm aspirants whose minds are not distracted by arguments for and against the different religions, the latter printed them in 1909 under the title Vichara Sagara Sara Sangraham. As it is now difficult to obtain this small book, the present book has been brought out under a new name, Vichara Mani Malai (the Jewel Garland of Enquiry).
Disciple: Swami, what are the means of putting an end to the miseries of samsara like birth and death and of attaining supreme bliss?
Guru: O Disciple! What a delusion! You are always of the nature of bliss. There is not the least trace of the miseries of samsara in you. Therefore do not take upon yourself the miseries of birth etc. You are the conscious Brahman which is free from birth and death.
Disciple: Is not Liberation the cessation of misery and the attainment of supreme Bliss? If I am (already) of the nature of bliss how is it possible for me to attain the bliss which is always attained and similarly to get rid of the misery which never existed?
Guru: This is possible just as one can seek and find a bracelet which was on one's arm all the time but which one had forgotten about, and on finding it look upon it as a new acquisition. It is possible as in the case of the serpent which, at no time present in the rope, was mistaken for one, but which seemed to be there and seems to disappear when one discovers that it is only a piece of rope.
Disciple: Will the non-existence of misery and the existence of bliss co-exist in one and the same state (lit. substance) of Liberation?
Guru: They will. Just as the non-existence of the imagined serpent is the existence of the rope, the non-existence of the imagined misery is the existence of bliss.
Disciple: When the misery of birth, death, etc., is actually experienced how can it be said that it never exists in me?
Guru: Know that the world of birth, death, etc., is an illusory appearance like the serpent in the rope and blueness in the sky, or like dreams, due to your ignorance of your Self which is Brahman.
Disciple: If the world of the waking state comes into existence and falsely appears like dreams through nescience, why should we speak of any distinction between the waking state and the dream state and say that the waking state has relative (empirical : vyavaharika) reality while the dream state has only personal (pratibhasika) reality?
Guru: Since a dream appears without the help of the appropriate time, space and materials on account of nescience accompanied by the defect (dosham) of sleep, it is spoken of as a personal state. Since the waking state appears in the Supreme Self which is free from time, space and materials, owing to nescience alone, it is spoken of as the relative state. They are thus described with reference to the three states of reality (personal, relative and absolute). When we think clearly there is no difference between them. Nor is there any difference between the waking and the dream states. Undifferentiated consciousness is the only true reality. Whatever is different from it is personal and has nescience as its material cause and consciousness as its basis.
Disciple: How can the individual who is of the form of 'I', 'I' and is numerous and finite and subject to attachment and other forms of misery be identical with Brahman which is one and all-pervasive and free from attachment and other forms of misery? If the individual and Brahman are the same who is it that acts? And who bestows the fruits of action?
Guru: Although Brahman cannot be identical with the individuality (jiva) which is limited to the inner organ (anthakarana) and which is the apparent meaning of 'I', it can be with the witness (sakshi), which is the implied meaning of the word 'I'. It is the reflected part (abhasabhaga) of the jiva which performs action. The reflected part is Isvara (God), which is the apparent meaning of the word 'Tat' (Brahman), bestows the fruits of action. There is no difference in the consciousness which is the implied meaning of these words (I and Tat). Nor do these two aspects (jiva and Isvara) really exist.
Disciple: For whom is this knowledge? For the jiva or for the witness?
Guru: Knowledge and ignorance are for the jiva alone and not for the witness.
Disciple: Will not the knowledge 'I am Brahman' which arises in the jiva which is different from Brahman be false?
Guru: As the immutable Self (kutastha) implied in the term 'I' is always one with Brahman, like the pot space and infinite space, it is completely identical with it. As for the jiva implied in the term 'I' it can have identity with Brahman 'by removal of obstruction' (badha samanadhikaranayam) through negating the idea of jiva, just as the man one imagines one sees in a post (in a dim light) becomes one with the post on the negation of the idea of his being a man.