Brahma Sutras

Southern Aeschna(Originally posted to Advaita Academy Oct. 2010)

Most readers of this site will certainly have heard of this text- the third branch, nyAya prasthAna, of the source for the teaching of advaita. (The other two branches of the so-called prasthAna traya are the Upanishads or shruti, and smRRiti, of which the most important is the bhagavadgItA.) But few have probably read it. You may have attempted to do so but been quickly put off by its seeming complexity. This is not surprising!

The basic text was written by vyAsa and otherwise known as bAdarAyaNa. And ‘text’ is not really the right word. It is actually written in short, numbered sutras whose meaning is often obscure, to say the least. The practice of the time required that writers of such works used as few words as possible – and vyAsa must have been one of the most proficient! The reader is expected to remember what has gone before and fill in the appropriate words as necessary. He is also expected to know the Upanishads and other works off by heart so that the relevant references do not have to be spelled out. Continue reading

Waking World is also Unreal

small_A-U-MDreams are a powerful metaphor in Advaita. The Yoga Vasishtha is perhaps the best known book to utilize them extensively but probably the earliest teacher to do so was Gaudapada in his kArikA-s on the mANDUkya upaniShad.

He effectively says that the waking state is unreal, like dreams, ‘because we experience it’. This is anvAya-vyatireka logic: we experience objects in dreams, and they turn out to be unreal; therefore the objects we experience in waking are also unreal.

This does not sound very convincing and there are various arguments that we can raise to object to the analogy. Gaudapada raises them for us, in case we can’t think of them all! Here is the third argument he puts forward. It is an extract from my forthcoming book, which will be published later this year. (It missed the May schedule and will probably be late Summer now. The ISBN is 978-1-78279-996-2, so you can check Amazon for pre-ordering but I will be posting other extracts and information nearer the date.)

Third objection to world being unreal

And this leads on to the third objection namely that, whereas the dream world is subjective, the waking world has objective reality. It is experienced as external to ourselves, whereas the dream takes place in our mind (K2.9 – 10). But this notion suffers from the same confusion as before. We only recognize that the dream world is ‘in our mind’ when we are awake; at the time of the dream, it is just as much ‘external’ as is the waking world when we are awake. We might as well say that the waking world is really non-existent since it disappears when we are in the dream or deep sleep states. At the time of the dream, I experience external objects and events in just the same manner. Their illogicality or even impossibility only becomes apparent on awakening. Continue reading

How Many Universes?

Multiverse - Nature - Sept 2014 I wrote a Blog Post with the title “How Many Universes Make A Multiverse – The Story of Bhetala” inspired by a story narrated by Sage Vasishta in the first part of the Sixth Chapter: Nirvana in Yogavasishta. The Link to the Post dated Nov 4, 2009 is here. The metaphor described was as follows:


“Think of the universe that we are all living in to be a humongous fruit.

There is a bough with thousands of those fruits.
There is a tree with thousands of such boughs.
There is a wood with thousands of such trees.
There is a mountain with thousands of such woods.
There is an island with thousands of such mountains.
There is a huge globe (mahi peetha) with thousands of such islands.
There is a huge star system with thousands of such globes.
There is a heavenly egg with thousands of such star systems.
There is a sea with thousands of such heavenly eggs.
There is an ocean with thousands of such seas.
Thousands of such oceans will be the waters in the stomach of a man.
That man’s name is Vishnu. Continue reading

Dream Space, Awake Space and Mind-Space

[This short extract, in addition to providing the answers, also serves as an example of the incisive logic and inductive and deductive approach taken by Sage Vasishta in explicating the nature of the world to Rama in the well-known Advaitic scripture, Yogavasishta. The present material is from Chapter 2: mumukshu vyavahAra prakaraNa (The Conduct and Behavior of a committed Seeker), Original text: Shri K. V. Krishna Murthy; English translation: Ramesam Vemuri]

Where do the brahmANDa-s (multiverses) of the present time exist? They are in space.  What is space exactly?

One definition for space is that because of which it is possible for two objects to exist separated from one another.  We can also define it in another way. Space is that in which all the known objects are located.  But your dream world is also known to you! Can you say where do the rivers, mountains and all the other things of your dream world are located in the present awake world space?  Continue reading

Q. 367 – shraddhA – Is it necessary?

Q. I come from an atheistic upbringing, and in addition I have studied a good chunk of modern Western philosophy and science, and such a position has become my “default mode”. A day came a couple years back where I found myself in a deep existential crisis (one that is most certainly still ongoing), and so I looked for a spiritual path that could reconcile what I knew of philosophy/science with spirituality. Advaita seemed to be the one that not only fit the bill the best, but also resonated with me the most. But on this path, I find myself constantly slipping into the habits of thought that I am used to. I try to cling to the pieces that don’t fit neatly into the materialist story, but I’m very much aware that I’m hanging on to them because I’m worried, not because I have a strong belief in their truth. If there is a teaching that goes against the grain of most scientific thought, even slightly, I tell myself I must discard it – “otherwise you’re just fooling yourself”, I say.

I notice this thought process, and it’s disturbing to me. I want to be open to what Advaita has to offer, but it’s incredibly tough – I worry often that a spiritual path of any kind is not possible for someone like me. I have a good deal of mumukshutva, but no shraddha. Can someone without shraddha somehow gain it? How necessary is it? And how can I break through my old habits of thinking, and gain that faith that there’s something more than just this body? Continue reading

Questions by Peregrinus

[Reference: ]

Gary Crowley 2006Dear PtN,

Great Questions!

In providing answers to those very  questions, volumes have been written, several concepts have been floated and related downstream issues have been under constant debate from several centuries (if not millennia) ago up to even now . The positions taken are so extreme and contradictory to each other that protagonists of different propositions do not see eye to eye.  Unable to wrap their minds around the Advaita concepts and unconvinced by the Advaita models, some people (Tatva vadins – followers of the 13th century Madhvacharya) ascribe as much reality to the individual as to brahman but deny the identity of the two. The fights between them and the Advaitins are legendary. And there are notorious disagreements even within the Advaitins also on subtle details of the theories they propose as answers. Hence it is quite safe to say at the outset that there are no straight answers to any of these fundamental questions, as you may be already knowing from your voracious reading. Hence, switching on all caveats and disclaimers …… …… ……, I stick my neck out. Continue reading

Life is a dream – The world is real


A. Of course, if everything is like a dream (mithyA), then the sages and their scriptures are a part of that dream. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the teachings and the scriptures are not useful for awakening from the dream.

B. That is true, in my understanding. ‘Life is a Dream’ (Calderón de la Barca’s play), ‘All the world’s a stage’ (Shakespeare). As to Vedanta, here is what a sage (among so many others) has said: “Vedanta plays the role of the dream lion in this world. Vedantic knowledge itself is part of the illusory world. But then it dissolves the entire illusion of this world, revealing reality as it is.” Sw. Parthsarathy.

A. If no one dies, then no one is enlightened either, and yet we still talk as if people really do die and really do become enlightened.

B. True also. That modifier, ‘as if’, is crucial.

In the next para. you write: “…an individual who appears to exist while not really existing (AS AN INDIVIDUAL) has appeared to become enlightened while not really being enlightened (AS THE PURPORTED INDIVIDUAL).” I have taken the liberty of adding the capital letters, for advaitic sense. Further, while ‘everybody is enlightened’, as Neo advaitins claim, ‘no one is enlightened’, as the sage Gaudapada declared. Are these two seemingly contradictory statements true – and in what sense? *

A. I think the problem with brain damage is the possibility that a j~nAnI [sage] would lose most or all of the knowledge (including Self-knowledge) that he gained through his studies.

B. This is as seen from the vyavaharika (empirical) perspective, which cannot be denied (only understood). Jñani/s (sages) also experience thoughts and emotions. With them, these either quickly disappear, or are transmuted or resolved into consciousness; in fact, they are only consciousness, as mind is also a projection of consciousness.

Something more for pondering: “People forget the reality of the illusory world”. Huang Po.

(*) Gaudapada (Shankara, and the whole tradition of advaita Vedanta) deny multiplicity as being real. In essence ‘all is One’. The Neo-advaitin’s dictum (’everybody is enlightened’) is thus true and false at the same time.


Topic of the Month – Dreams

frescoThe topic for the month of February is Dreams and Dreaming

Here also is an opportunity to ask questions on this topic and receive answers from the bloggers.

We always assume the present to be the waking state and, by contrast with it, the previous state sublated by the present to be dream. It is impossible to distinguish them otherwise by any subtle definition. (Loose translation of Gaudapada kArikA 2.5) (Please, no reference to EEG to refute this!)

Necessity of karma kanda

According to Shankara, the entire Veda is important in that, till the seeker reaches the stage of pursuing the higher knowledge (jñana kanda) the duties enjoined in the other parts (karma kanda) are necessary for him. Otherwise, the Veda would not teach them. So, a spiritual seeker has to undertake scriptural study.

The path of action (karma yoga), states Shankara, is the ‘means to the supreme bliss indirectly’ in that it prepares the mind of the spiritual aspirant for knowledge, and thereby makes him competent for adopting the path of knowledge (jnana yoga), which is the direct path to liberation. Man cannot abstain from action, and as action binds man by resulting in karma… it is essential to know how to act without accruing further karma. This is the secret of action, called naiskarmya in the Gita… true renunciation is a mental disposition wherein the mind becomes serene without the distractions of the world.

(Spiritual Path). The Roots of Vedanta – Selections from Shankara’s Writings, p. 326