Tattvabodha – Part 5

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPart 5 of the commentary by Dr. VIshnu Bapat on Shankara’s Tattvabodha.This is a key work which introduces all of the key concepts of Advaita in a systematic manner.

The commentary is based upon those by several other authors, together with the audio lectures of Swami Paramarthananda. It includes word-by-word breakdown of the Sanskrit shloka-s so should be of interest to everyone, from complete beginners to advanced students.

Part 5 continues to look at the six sAdhanA-s (shamAdhi shakti sampatti), and in this part addresses uparama (observance of duty), titikshA (forbearance) and shraddhA (faith). There is also a hyperlinked Contents List, which will be updated as each new part is published.

Q. 373 – Ego, soul and mithyAtva

Q: For the last few years I have been trying to develop a manuscript detailing a working model which marriages the teachings of Advaita Vedanta with contemporary research on NDE or “Near Death Experience” and similar fields of inquiry. There are several questions I have, but for now I will only bother you with one: Is it possible the Atman does possess a “spiritual ego”?

 Clearly the culprit for the ignorance of our real self as the Self is the wrongful identification with the body-mind. Shankara explains the identification with the kosha-s perpetuates the illusion, which is nothing more than a superimposition of the kosha(s) on brahman helped by mAyA.

 The way I see it, our greatest enemy is the ego, the human ego. This ego comes from the mind and is maintained alive by desires. But I have many reasons to suspect there is also a “spiritual ego” present in the Atman, which similarly perpetuates the ignorance of the wrongful identification by the so-called discarnate “spirit soul”.

 The metaphor I have used is this: there is an actor in the “spiritual world” (the Atman) which wrongfully identifies with a spiritual ego preventing it from realizing brahman. This actor goes through an induced amnesia, after agreeing to play the role of a character in the Grand Stage of the world. This is the incarnation stage. The human ego is the combination of the spiritual ego – which carries the saMskAra-s and the vAsanA-s – plus particular influences on the personality traits caused by internal factors such as the brain/mind of the new body, as well as external factors such as family, society, education, etc. This is the embodied Atman as the jIva. Continue reading

Advaita is not Idealism

Thames(Originally posted to Advaita Academy Nov 2010)

All students of advaita know that every ‘thing’ is brahman. And they know that ‘I am brahman’. It is therefore a trivial mathematical reduction to say that everything is me. But there is a danger here. Some people conclude that the world is an appearance that ‘I’ create in some way; that the world ‘is’ because I perceive it. In this way, such people claim that advaita is equivalent to the subjective idealism of the Western philosopher Berkeley, who said “to be is to be perceived” (esse est percipi). This, of course, is a denial of the separate existence of matter and this might naïvely be thought to be equivalent to the Advaitin concept of mithyA.

(Note that the word ‘ idealism’ has nothing to do with aiming for perfection, but means that things have no reality in themselves, only existing as ideas in mind.)

From the point of view of absolute reality, there is only brahman. But then there is nothing to talk about! Such a discussion is only meaningful from the standpoint of empirical reality – our everyday world. If subjective idealism were true, the world would cease to exist when we go to sleep and would have to be created anew on awakening. Berkeley got around this sort of problem by claiming that the world continues to exist because it is perceived by God. And again, one might be tempted to claim that this parallels advaita in that we claim that the world is a creation of Ishvara, rather than the individual. This is not quite the case. In advaita, objects really do exist. Ishvara is the material cause, as well as the efficient cause of the universe. The point is that the substratum of their existence is brahman alone. In the case of Berkeley, however, the objects only exist in the mind of God, as it were.

Greg Goode, who studied Berkeley for his doctorate, believes that Berkeley’s last book may well have resolved his views to match those of advaita, but there were very few copies of that book ever made and it has not been possible to confirm this.

Advaita, then, does not claim that objects have no reality separate from the subject at the level of the world. In this sense, it is a realist philosophy and not an idealist one. This is highlighted by the following very interesting analysis, which I recently came across in one of the talks by Swami Paramarthananda on the Brahma Sutra.

Our principal pramANa, or source of knowledge, is pratyakSha or perception. When we see something for the first time, we see it in the present and, as a result of the examination of its various attributes, we conclude what it is. We can call this ‘cognition’. At some time in the future, we may encounter an object. By comparing its attributes in the present with remembered attributes from the past (as retrieved from the memory), we may be forced to conclude that this object is the same one that we saw in the past. This is called ‘recognition’ – seeing the object again. This fact of recognition is effectively a refutation of idealism (which is also the philosophy of the yogachAra or vij~nAna vAda Buddhists, a branch of Mahayana Buddhism). If the object that is seen now is the same object as the one that was seen in the past, then clearly it has a real existence and is not only an appearance in mind (which might otherwise be called a figment of the imagination).

You can read a series of essays from Chittaranjan Naik on ‘A Realist View of Advaita’.

I-consciousness, Worlds And Brahman

Shri Vijay Pargaonkar, a frequent contributor at this site, recently drew my attention to the teaching of Sage Vasishta towards the end of the 32,000 verse-strong Yogavasishta. I wish to share the following extract from the teaching as it has a relevance to the discussions going on at another thread.

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Vasishta:   Rama, there are essentially two types of (…) worlds.  They are the Stable and the Mobile worlds.  The Stable worlds are: Mahah, Janah, Tapah, Satya etc.  They are located far away from us.

स यदि पितृलोककामो भवति सङ्कल्पादेवास्य पितरः समुत्तिष्ठन्ति तेन पितृलोकेन सम्पन्नो महीयते ॥                    – VIII-ii-1, छान्दोग्य

sa yadi pitRilokakAmo bhavati saMkalpAdevasyapiraH samuttiShTanti tena pitRilokena saMpannomahIyate.       — VIII-ii-1, chAndogya upanishad. Continue reading

Living In The Moment Eternally – 2

[Nobody has obviously noticed or pointed out that the continuation articles have not been posted for two years! So I am proceeding with the Series of articles here a bit hesitantly as I am not sure of the Reader-interest. In these two years my computer lost the “memory” of my notes and files stored on the subject (thanks to the hackers from Nigeria). I am hence obliged to go by whatever material I could harness in the ‘now’ from my computer. Part – 1 here.]

The main question of interest for us here is “How does the body of a Self-realized man live eternally in the ‘Now’ and function in the day to day life of eating, moving, acting and interacting in the absence of ‘memory’ of past experience/knowledge for recognition? What does “Now” mean for him/her? Is the “Now” on a temporal dimension?”

Whether we are consciously aware of it or not, it is impossible to lead a normal life in the world without memory. Maybe it is simply responding to when your name is called or you have to find a solution to a much more complicated problem of technology, memory plays a significant role. Therefore, before we venture to answer the questions on the functioning of a jIvanmukta‘s body, one could be curious to know about the lives of those who are  at a disadvantage in their worldly life because they do not have an access to their memory anymore . I shall list briefly a few such cases which are well studied by scientists. Their lives may look yet times hilarious and often poignant and heartbreaking but always harrowing to their care givers.Wearing - HM Continue reading

Q. 372 – Superimposition and Memory

Q: What is the relationship between memory and superimposition (adhyAsa)? In the metaphor of rope and snake, we say that we fail to see the snake clearly, because of inadequate light – there is partial knowledge and partial ignorance. When we superimpose a snake on the rope, we are drawing on fear and memory. We must have seen a snake (or image of one in a film or book) before in order to be able to mistake the rope for one. Similarly, we mistake brahman for the body and the world etc.

 But what about a baby or someone who has no memory as a result of brain damage? Is there still superimposition in this case?

Responses from Ted, Venkat, Ramesam, Martin, Sitara and Dennis

A (Ted): We have to bear in mind that the example of a rope being mistaken for a snake is an analogy, and as is the case with any analogy, the example is imperfect. In the example, the snake image is based on a previous experience of the mistaken perceiver.

 In terms of mistaking the body-mind-sense complex as well as the innumerable other objects that constitute the manifest universe for Brahman, however, we are dealing with something a little bit different. Whereas in order to mistake the rope for a snake, one must have previously seen a snake, the projection of the apparent reality (i.e., the manifest universe in both its subtle and gross aspects) is not based on experiential memory, but rather results from the mind’s ability to recognize the “cosmic blueprints” that abide in dormant form in the Macrocosmic Causal Body, which is personified as Isvara, and are made manifest through the conditioning that maya upadhi, the limiting adjunct of causal matter, puts upon Brahman. That is, the mind is an instrument that is designed or a mechanism that is “programmed” to recognize these forms and, thus, is able to discern their apparent existence within the cosmic soup of pure potentiality (i.e., the unmanifest realm or “mind of God,” if you will) from the data it receives via the perceptive instruments/organs. Continue reading

Tattvabodha – Part 4

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPart 4 of the commentary by Dr. VIshnu Bapat on Shankara’s Tattvabodha.This is a key work which introduces all of the key concepts of Advaita in a systematic manner.

The commentary is based upon those by several other authors, together with the audio lectures of Swami Paramarthananda. It includes word-by-word breakdown of the Sanskrit shloka-s so should be of interest to everyone, from complete beginners to advanced students.

Part 4 begins to look at the six sAdhanA-s (shamAdhi shakti sampatti), and in this part addresses shama (control of mind) and dama (control of senses). There is also a hyperlinked Contents List, which will be updated as each new part is published.

The ‘ego’, the ‘soul’, and metaphysics ll

 It can be said that, in psychological and existential or ontological terms, the ‘only’ problem, or the main one, is that of the ego or self, seemingly a legitimate, authentic and real entity, and at the same time an apparent aberration. Why is this so? The ego is a conundrum, if not the conundrum in the realms of philosophy, metaphysics and religion. Here we are confronted with two problems, one of them metaphysical and the other linguistic – the use of terminology.
The ego (self), to begin with, is the centre of experience, the human subject; in it, both the poles of thinking and feeling, of knowing and being, unite. It can be referred to as the individual mind or consciousness and, as such, it is ‘undivided’ (in-dividuus), as the human subject itself (equivalent term) is undivided. But there is more to this, as it will be shown.

 

Logically and metaphysically we can refer to the individual man, woman, as a subject or self: ‘I’; psychologically as an ego and, metaphysically and theologically, as a soul or person.

In any case, the ego, the individual, is a unit, single and undivided, even though, when we consider the soul as such (and one should not shrink on hearing this word) we may ascribe qualities or dispositions –or faculties- to it. That single entity is the total human being (person or individual soul) who has those qualities, such as memory, rationality, imagination, desire, and who, consequently, is different from every other person, each being unique in some respect. A totality is a unit, a unity, whether seen as whole-and-parts, centre-and-periphery, or essence-and-qualities or aspects.

Taking the word ego as equivalent in meaning to ‘person’, ‘individual’, ‘soul’, as just indicated, we must make two important considerations: 1) the enigma of diversified subjectivity1 and 2) the distinction between ego and ‘ego’ (in what does it consist). Continue reading