When the goal is very big, we cannot afford to be confused about the means. The way has to be the right one. Else having taken the wrong path, it takes time to get back to the place where we got lost and then move forward. So the masters have always been the signposts, milestones and pointers to show the right way. What is the only way for the liberation of the mind, the way by which we may realise our real self? Well, Sri Adi Sankaracharya lists in the Vivekachoodamani, first, about what will not take us there.
It is not through the practice of yoga, inhaling and exhaling, getting the posture right and performing intricate asanas with ease; not through the philosophy of Sankhya, which distinguishes between the different aspects of nature; the conscious being called the Purusha, the inert and the sentient aspects of our being; it is not by performing good actions, charities, austerities, fasting or fire rituals; it is also not by gaining some knowledge about this subject or that.
Then how does one get to know the self? It is only with the realisation that the individual we call “I” and the supreme reality, ‘Brahman,’ are one and the same. The Acharya connects this idea with an example about how the other means will not help. If a person can play the veena very well and is giving a visually pleasing concert dressed well and with a beautiful in hand, mellifluously moving the fingers through the frets over the strings, it can at the most be pleasing to the minds of people listening to it.
That action of playing the veena will not have that much of a power to control the audience enough so that the player sets up a kingdom and administers it with the support of the subjects—the audience! In the same way there are many people who may speak very well. Their words will flow out of their lips like a crashing waterfall. They may be very skilled in arguing from the Shastras. Such capabilities and knowledge are only useful as a means of enjoyment and grant a great experience to the listener and to the one professing such knowledge. It cannot help in evolution of the individual towards liberation.
The books of knowledge are not useful on two accounts. For the one who has no idea about the supreme self, the Shastras are of no use. For the one who has realised the self too, the Shastras are of no use, because his knowledge has transcended the need for the Shastras.
In a beautiful verse, Sri Adi Sankaracharya cautions us to not get into the trap of words and meanings which is like a very big forest that can cause the mind to go on a spin. The only important thing to do for the one who desires liberation is to know the essence called the self and this is the only thing that needs to be known.