Q.404 Practising Advaita

Q: I need some practical guidance on practising advaita in daily life. Please advise me of the best course of action.

A (Dennis): You cannot ‘practise’ Advaita. Advaita is a teaching/philosophy. Its aim is to bring you to the total understanding that reality is non-dual; that all-there-is is brahman or Consciousness, and that who-you-really-are is that brahman. Only the body-mind can ‘practise’ or ‘live a life’ and you are not that. The body-mind and the world are mithyA, which means that they are not real in themselves; their real substratum is brahman.

Q: Many thanks for the response. I have a question though. I understand that Advaita is a philosophy.  But what does one do with a philosophy? Try to understand? Try to live it? What is my next course of action? I know that action should be ruled out. But what is the next step for me? What do I do or where do I go from here. I hope I am able to explain my point. I look forward to hear from you.

A: Advaita is a teaching methodology. It provides a step by step ‘education’ for the seeker to bring him or her Self-knowledge. Ideally, this teaching is given by a qualified teacher. This is someone who already has Self-knowledge and also has the skills to teach it to someone else. Since the original teaching derives from the scriptures, a deep understanding of these and a knowledge of Sanskrit is also deemed by many to be a necessary qualification for a teacher.

Accordingly, the next step would ideally be to find such a teacher and study with them for as long as necessary – usually at least a few years. Failing that, you have to read widely (but only those books that do not confuse!) and ask lots of questions (of someone who can answer them!).

Q.403 – The enlightenment perspective

Q. If you have the time (and inclination) I would really love to get some clarification on exactly what you mean when you write “There is still a personal self after enlightenment; it is just that it is now known not to be who I really am; it is simply a ‘reflection’ in the mind.”

As stated I would tend to label what you seem to be calling “enlightenment” as a transpersonal perspective, not a transcendent one. But as I said earlier, words are terribly slippery and do not necessarily covey the same meaning to the recipient as they do to the sender.

For example I absolutely know (and it is far more than simply an intellectual “knowing”) that I am not “Cate” – my personal identity, name, desires, dreams, experiences, thoughts and opinions. And yet I would hardly call myself enlightened.

My experience (and what a joke it is to phrase it like that since it is not “my” experience at all. But that’s the most convenient grammatical way to put it) is that the bliss of union arrives with the absence of “me” altogether. Oneness arrives with “my” departure. There have been hours and days and even weeks when the perspective of any sense of the personal self has disappeared altogether. The personal memories of Cate were there and available for use, as was the personality, but there was no shred of what I would call a “personal self” remaining.

A (Dennis): I wouldn’t have thought to put it like that but yes, enlightenment IS a ‘transpersonal perspective’ as opposed to transcendent. There is already only Consciousness, and you are that ALREADY. How could you be anything else? (There is nothing else.) So the problem of the unenlightened person is that they do not know this. To ‘become enlightened’ is to realize the truth of this. This is to realize that who-you-really-are is not the person or the mind. But this does not negate the appearance of body and mind.

So, if you ‘absolutely know this’, then you are enlightened. Denying that is simply giving in to mental habits of humility or whatever. (Of course, I don’t suggest that you go around claiming to be enlightened; this is not the sort of statement that is appreciated by most people!)

Experiences of bliss etc have nothing to do with enlightenment.

Q.402 – Witness vs jIva

Q: Please correct my logic below:

  • The ‘negating’ (neti, neti) is actually done by the not-Self (intellect, jIva).
  • The things negated are not-Self (body, senses, mind/intellect, jIva itself?)
  • The witness cannot be negated because it precedes the objects of negation and the act of negation.
  • The witness itself cannot negate but it is because of it that misidentification and negation are possible.
  • The knowledge that ‘I am That which cannot be negated’ is in the intellect, which is not-Self, and therefore unreal.
  • Once that knowledge takes place, then there is no further thoughts such as ‘I am an individual, so and so, this/that’. And I know that I never was.
  • Although the knowledge is in the intellect, it is as if the Self regains knowledge of itself. This individual ‘being’ just became sentient due to my reflection in it?
  • It is ‘me’ that is reflected in all apparent individuals?
    .

A (Dennis): That is mostly correct. Just a couple of points. The ‘witness’ also has to be negated intellectually, since the act of witnessing has to take place through the body-mind-intellect, which is not who you really are. And the Self-knowledge also takes place in the intellect – it is the jIva who gains Self-knowledge. ‘Self-knowledge’ doesn’t apply to the Self, which is never anything other than the Self. And it does not ‘know’ this in the sense that this word implies – to ‘know’ something requires seeming duality and an intellect.

Q.401 – Who is the doer/enjoyer?

Q: Who is the doer and enjoyer of action if not brahman and ego?

A (Dennis): In reality (pAramArthika viewpoint), there is no doer, enjoyer, ego or action. From the point of view of the person in the world (vyAvahArika viewpoint), you can use whatever ‘explanation’ you feel happy with! The usually accepted way of explaining it is that brahman enables the action to take place through the jIva (Consciousness is ‘reflected’ in the mind).

Q.400 – Consciousness and the person

A few questions or clarifications please…

  1. As you’ve said to me before, to focus on this world and everything within it, is really the wrong focus, because it’s mithyA. And what we really are, is that in which all of it occurs?
  2. Am I correct in saying that Vedanta is truly a specific system or process to know who you really are as well as understanding the functioning of everything?
  3. So the elements or energy is not who we are since they are dependent on Consciousness. As Nisargadatta said, “without Consciousness nothing is”.
  4. To gain self-knowledge however, there must be a body with a nervous system. So the body does matter in relation to self-knowledge? But, consciousness doesn’t care whether it’s manifested or not?
  5. Words cause confusion, so what is the difference between Consciousness and Awareness from your understanding?
  6. The mind is discussed a lot, and many say that to have ‘no mind’ is the key to peace and freedom. Is the mind a part of the brain or something entirely different?
  7. Upon gaining self-knowledge, does the mind continue or fade away if you will, leaving the brain to function in its normal and natural way without the mind blocking it?

A (Dennis):

  1. You are not the body-mind; you are Consciousness. There is only Consciousness in reality; the ‘rest’ is just appearance and mistaken interpretation.
  2. Advaita is a teaching methodology to bring you to this realization.
  3. Elements, energy etc are only name and form of Consciousness.
  4. In reality, there is only Consciousness. From the perspective of the person, there is a body-mind. The realization that there is only Consciousness has to take place in the mind of the person in order for the person to realize that ‘All there is is Consciousness’.
  5. You can define words how you like. As long as you do this, there need not be any confusion. The way I use these terms is that Consciousness (capital ‘C’) is the reality (better called ‘Brahman’ to avoid confusion); and ‘awareness’ (capital or not) and ‘consciousness’ (small ‘c’) refer to the person’s perceiving/conceiving ability.
  6. The ‘person’ requires a mind in order to function in the world. This applies whether the person has Self-knowledge or not.
  7. It is likely (though not necessary) that the mind of someone with Self-knowledge will be less prone to disturbance by desire/fear etc.

Q.399 – Self-evident Atma

Q: I want to ask about the following quotation from your series on upadesha sAhasrI – part 19 (upadesha sAhasrI compiled by R. B. Athreya from the lectures of Swami Paramarthananda):

Atma, though a knower of everything, is not a known object, because, if Atma were to be a known object it will need another Atma to know, leading to what is known as infinite regress (anavasta dosham)Atma cannot be known by itself, because, to be known by itself, it has to become both the subject and the object, which is not possible as one and the same entity cannot function as subject and object simultaneously.

We cannot also say that one part of Atma can be known by another part, as Atma is by definition partless.  Thus, Atma is ever the knower but not known by others or by itself. 

As Atma is self-evident, its existence needs no proof.  That I am conscious is evident to me.  The very search for proof is possible because of my being conscious.  Thus, Atma is revealed as self-evident Witness Consciousness which illumines everything and which cannot be objectified by anything.  This Atma is my real nature.  All the known attributes belong to the known objects and cannot belong to the knower, Atma (consciousness).” Continue reading

Q.398 – Use of metaphors

Q: There are two concepts, super-imposition and manifestation, in Advaita to  describe the ‘relationship’ between Brahaman and the empirical world. Super-imposition means that the world is super-imposed on Brahaman. Manifestation means that the world is a manifestation of Brahaman. My doubt is as to how a manifestation can be super-imposition also? My gut feeling is that there is a subtle link between the two concepts which I am unable to ‘see’ because of the proverbial ‘ignorance’. 

A (Dennis): They are each a metaphor to give the mind some insight into the nature of reality. The reality is non-dual so that all metaphors and all ‘explanations’ are ultimately untrue. The world and the jIva are mithyA. Brahman has no relationships. Use the metaphors and explanations of the scriptures and teachers to help guide the mind to realization of the truth but don’t ever take them as more than what they are. And do not worry if one ‘explanation’ disagrees with (or even contradicts) another. They all have to be dropped in the end!

Q.397 – Why are scriptures needed?

Q: From the blogs and articles on Advaita, it seems like Scriptures are the basis from which everything is derived. If Scriptures were also written by humans, why is it considered sacred? Why can’t we independently come to same conclusions completely discarding scriptures?

e.g. Why couildn’t Vivekananda or Ramana Maharishi state something original about Self without reference to scriptures? All we see is a definition of Self without knowing the process by which it has been arrived at. I feel I am no different from the guy who slaughters innocent people because something is stated in a Book.

A (Dennis): Upanishadic material was passed down by word of mouth long before it was written down. From teacher to disciple; from those who knew to those who did not. The disciple trusts that the teacher will explain things until such time as the disciple realizes the truth. The seeker is specifically asked to use reason and own experience to validate what is said. If what is initially taken on trust is found to be invalid, it is rejected. If it is contrary to reason, it is rejected.

How does this process differ from science? Should you re-prove/re-derive all of the scientific laws from first principle and own experiments before you accept them? And if something is true, and fully understood by those who have gone before, how can one state something ‘original’? Moreover, why should one try? If teacher-seeker tradition over thousands of years have established an optimal way of passing on knowledge, isn’t it the height of arrogance to think one could do better?

Q.396 – Atman cannot be known

Q: Swami Paramarthananda makes the following comments in his talks on upadeSha sAhasrI:

Atma, though a knower of everything, is not a known object, because, if Atma were to be a known object it will need another Atma to know, leading to what is known as infinite regress (anavasta dosham).  Atma cannot be known by itself, because, to be known by itself, it has to become both the subject and the object, which is not possible as one and the same entity cannot function as subject and object simultaneously.

We cannot also say that one part of Atma can be known by another part, as Atma is by definition partless.  Thus, Atma is ever the knower but not known by others or by itself. 

No Proof Needed

As Atma is self-evident, its existence needs no proof.  That I am conscious is evident to me.  The very search for proof is possible because of my being conscious.  Thus, Atma is revealed as self-evident Witness Consciousness which illumines everything and which cannot be objectified by anything.  This Atma is my real nature.  All the known attributes belong to the known objects and cannot belong to the knower, Atma (consciousness). Continue reading

Q.395 – Person vs Consciousness

Just to keep alive the thoughts on eka Jiva vAda…

Q: If we are just a ‘Stream of Consciousness’, how is it possible to introspect and know Reality? It is akin to the dreamer knowing that he is dreaming while still being in the dream. Also, the SOC’s suffering is really Brahman’s sufferring as Brahman alone exists. So is the SOC doing Brahman a favour by realizing the “Reality”? That doesn’t sound right!

A (Dennis): What do you (think you) mean when you say ‘I am a Stream of Consciousness’? In reality, there is only brahman (or Consciousness if you prefer). So it is correct to say ‘who-I-really-am is Consciousness’. But, if you are saying such things as ‘I know’, ‘I introspect’, ‘I dream’ etc, then you are speaking of the person. This is the level of the seeming world – vyavahAra. In reality (paramArtha), there is no world, no persons. I, the person, may suffer but  brahman does not suffer.

Q: My terminology is wrong but I meant ‘the thread of consciousness within Brahman’ which seems to be creating this impression of a ‘Creation’. This thread is running within Brahman and there are feelings of suffering. Since nothing exists but Brahman, Brahman is the sufferer through this thread. Suffering need not be physical it could be just psychological or some other means of pain.

A: There is no separate thing inside or outside of brahman; there is only brahman. The concepts that you are using are only of value to the extent that they help you to realize that truth. If they are not helping, discard them!