Q. 418 – When enlightenment occurs

Q: “You cannot experience brahman. But everything you experience is brahman (since brahman is all there is).”

1. Are both assertions true?

2. My understanding (based on both being true) is that you cannot experience brahman directly, but you are always experiencing it indirectly via vyavahara/mithya objects. Very much like Plato’s cave and Kant’s phenomena/numina, you experience shadows/phenomena … not the dinge-an-sich/numina which casts the shadows. 

My Advaita is rusty (shoving vyavahara and mithya together into vyavahara/mithya is probably not kosher) … but is the gist of my understanding right? Continue reading

Q. 417 – Value of practices

Q: Knowing that you have extensive knowledge regarding various pathways to enlightenment, I would like to ask your views, if you have any, on the combining of Holotropic Breathwork with perhaps Vedanta.

I have done some Breathwork in the past, and have had some energetic and some emotional experiences, for which I had no knowledge base to anchor my experiences to (to borrow the explanations I have heard from Vedanta).

Now that I am aware of the conceptual explanations (at a basic level) for reality (e.g. James Swartz’s videos, Rupert’s videos, Pure Light of Knowing meditations, etc.), I wonder if the ‘jarring’ of my energy / emotional bodies might trigger the internalizing of the knowledge that is perched in the mind, ready to ‘colonize’ my ….?? (Awareness, Intellect, Mind, …??) and create an awakening experience that will stick if I continue my sadanas.

A (Dennis): The bad news is that I have never heard of Holotropic Breathwork; the good news is that this does not matter as far as answering the question is concerned.

‘Enlightenment’ means Self-knowledge. And knowledge is the ONLY thing that can bring enlightenment. Actions of whatever kind will never do so, because action is not opposed to ignorance. Also, any ‘awakening experience’ is incidental to the gaining of Self-knowledge and not necessarily indicative of it. You can have the most amazing experience (as a result of drugs for example) but remain totally ignorant of your true nature.

Unless you can think of some mental ‘purification’ that may result from this ‘breathwork’, I would ignore it to be quite honest. Meditation is good because it does aid in control of the mind, improves mental discipline, increases stillness etc. All these are pre-requisites of a mind ready to assimilate the teaching so will be of use to most spiritual seekers.

Look into Shankara’s sAdhana chatuShTaya sampatti. The ask yourself about any potential ‘practice’: “Will it help bring about any of these elements?” If the answer is clearly ‘yes’, then by all means take it up. Otherwise, direct your efforts to something more fruitful!

Q. 416 – More on evil

Q: If everything is the manifestation of consciousness, is there any explanation for so much pain, suffering, illness, disease, starvation, depression etc?

I have read and understood that Consciousness manifests itself in everything and  through human beings in order to experience the life (or dream) it created.

If this is so then one comes to the conclusion that sadism and masochism are experiences Consciousness also wants to feel, bearing in mind the atrocities that humans are committing nowadays.

A (Dennis): This is a question I am sure many will relate to. I can provide an answer in a number of ways.

Firstly, similar questions have been asked before. See, for example, Questions 100, 120 and 134. Secondly, I could throw this open to the other bloggers who may look at it from different angles. Let me know if you want me to do this. Thirdly, here are a couple of ideas that may help.

If, by ‘Consciousness’, you mean the non-dual reality (which I assume you do – so do I) then you have to concede that from that point of view there can be no ‘experiences’ and no value judgments. If you accept the conclusion of Advaita – ‘all there is is Consciousness’, then Consciousness is all there is! It is a bit like using steel to make scalpels and also to make daggers. From the standpoint of the steel, both are steel only. It is only the person who says one is good and the other bad. And the person, too, is only Consciousness.

Another way of looking at it is by comparing it to dream. Presumably you have dreams in which ‘bad’ things happen? Why do you do this? Why not always dream about good things? But, when you wake up, does it really matter? Was the bad thing really bad? When you realize the truth, you also know that the waking world is ultimately no more real than the dream world. Both are turIya, only.

Finally, you should note that Consciousness does not do anything, does not desire anything. Nor does it experience anything, either for itself or ‘through’ the supposedly created entities. The ‘bottom line’ of Advaita is that nothing has ever been created.

Q. 415 – Having the same thoughts.

Q: If thoughts arise from Consciousness, and Consciousness is the Absolute, AND we are all connected to the Absolute, why do we not all have the same thought simultaneously?

A: This is one of those many questions which confuse reality and appearance. The absolute reality is that there is ONLY Consciousness and, from that perspective you cannot say any more. At the level of empirical reality, there is clear duality – world, object, separate people etc. At this level, separate people have distinct thoughts, which are private. You cannot mix these two levels except to acknowledge that the empirical level is only an appearance (even though we believe it is real most of the time). As a crude metaphor, you might suppose that you take a lump of gold and make a ring and a bangle from it. If you drop the ring in some chemical and it is tarnished, you might ask why, since the ring and bangle are the same gold, does the bangle not become tarnished also. But this metaphor has its limitations!

You might enjoy reading the discussion at http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/teachers/mindreading_benjamin.htm. Benjamin asked a similar question here: Why can’t I read your thoughts?

Q. 414 – Is liberation guaranteed?

Q: Is final liberation from brith and death cycle guaranteed for everyone? Will some individuals attain liberation in 300 lifetimes, others in 300.000 but it will always be a finite time? Or is it the case that some individuals can collect worse and worse karma and as a result experience more and more suffering without end?

A (Dennis): I don’t really like this sort of question! Implicit in the question is the assumption that there really are individual people who undergo birth and death and rebirth. This, of course, is how it seems to be from the vantage point of the mind ‘before liberation’. And traditional advaita certainly teaches all of this in the beginning. However, the ‘bottom line’ of advaita is that there never has been any creation; there are not really any jIva-s or worlds; there is not really any karma or reincarnation. So, in the end, the question is meaningless. The truth is that there is only ever brahman or Consciousness, and brahman ever was and ever will be; no birth or death, no heaven or hell.

This may not be the answer you were looking for but I don’t want to give you an interim explanation which has to be taken back later.

Q: There is still the fear in me that my suffering will never end. It does not matter that this is only from a relative dreamer perspective. When I was young and stupid, I had an obsessive compulsive disorder which make me perform rituals. I had to do them in the proper sequence and time and told myself that if I ‘pass’ I will be happy forever and if I not I will suffer worse and worse pain – progressive suffering forever – the worst imaginable fate.

A: What you have to understand is that you are not these ideas in your mind. In fact, you are not the mind or body. One of the most useful metaphors is to think of the mind as a ‘reflector’ of consciousness, in a similar way to a mirror being a reflector of light. Just as the sun in the mirror is not the real sun, so the consciousness in your mind is not the real Consciousness. You currently think that you are the reflection but who you really are is the Consciousness itself, which ‘shines’ independently of the existence of the reflection. It is only the reflection that thinks it is suffering, just as a dirty mirror might ‘think’ that it is not reflecting properly. You are really eternal and ever free, unaffected by anything.

Q. 413 – Yet more on free will

Q: The link http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/past_messages/freewill_waite.htm   is about your convincing argument that there is no free will.  The Q ( for which I have no free will!!) is whether the lack of free will  is an obstacle in pursuit of Self- realization? It would seem that one has no ‘choice’ in the pursuit for it will follow the law of cause and effect. What are your views? Incidentally you have a supporter in Stephen Hawking [‘Grand Design’].

“Though we feel that we can choose what we do, our understanding of the molecular basis of biology shows that biological processes are governed by the laws of physics and chemistry and therefore are as determined as the orbits of the planets. Recent experiments in neuroscience support the view that it is our physical brain, following the known laws of science, that determines our actions, and not some agency that exists outside those laws. For example, a study of patients undergoing awake brain surgery found that by electrically stimulating the appropriate regions of the brain, one could create in the patient the desire to move the hand, arm, or foot, or to move the lips and talk. It is hard to imagine how free will can operate if our behavior is determined by physical law, so it seems that we are no more than biological machines and that free will is just an illusion.” Continue reading

Q.412 Definition of ‘Enlightenment’

Q: In your writings you use quite often the word ‘Enlightenment’. In ‘Back to the truth: 5000 years of Advaita’ you give the following definition of “Enlightenment”:

“Enlightenment is a sudden recognition that non-duality is, has always been, and will always be the reality of our experience”

and further you explain:

“[…] it refers to the transition from the position of believing oneself to be a person – body, mind etc. as described earlier – to the position of knowing, that there is only the non-dual Self […]”

This is probably a pretty good definition, however the words ‘recognition’ and ‘knowledge’ here can be easily misunderstood.

‘Knowledge’, in the view of most people, including most of the spiritual aspirants, is a kind of intellectual knowledge or insight. As a result these people hearing the Advaitic non-dual doctrine usually just add to their ideas a new one: ‘I am non-dual Self, I am Brahman’, thinking that this is the required knowledge (or recognition) they have missed so far and that this is the Enlightenment.

Moreover, the term ‘Enlightenment’ is used by many religious/spiritual traditions/movements and is differently defined/interpreted by them; in fact there is a wide range of interpretations/definitions of the word ‘Enlightenment’. Further, many claim that there are stages of ‘Enlightenment’, saying that that there can be a deep or shallow enlightenment, full or partial.

Advaita defines ‘knowledge’ or ‘true knowledge’ differently and according to Advaita such an intellectual knowledge or mental recognition of non-dual truth is not the true knowledge at all. So such an ‘Enlightenment’ has relatively little value in Advaita spiritual system, being seen just as an intellectual understanding of the non-dual truth. From this point there is still a long way to the authentic realization of the truth, called ‘true knowledge’.

Taking all that into account I am rather against using the term ‘Enlightenment’ in the context of authentic Advaita teaching. In my view it doesn’t bring much clarity, confusing many. Why not use original Advaitin terms, which are meaningful, concrete, almost free of misconceptions and leave little room for interpretations?

Would you please explain if the term ‘Enlightenment’ has any origin in traditional Advaitic texts? Which ones, please give the exact examples. What is the original Sanskrit word which is translated into English as ‘Enlightenment’? Continue reading

Q.411 Action and Knowledge

Q: Brief scenario: While walking I notice the  floor is wet. I decide to walk carefully because I fear I might slip and fall otherwise.

I could think that the entire situation takes place within Consciousness (Jnana) , all of it is in fact Consciousness (Jnana) alone. That would mean that  the  fear of slipping and falling, and the  decision made to walk carefully (or even the decision not to walk carefully) are  also Consciounsess  (Jnana). Am I correct here or do I depart from Consciousness each time I make a decision and execute it etc as in that scenario ?

If “yes”, why? If “no”, why ?

A (Dennis): Floors, walking, slipping, deciding etc. are all mithyA – they are not real IN THEMSELVES. Their substratum – Consciousness – is the only reality. But neither are they unreal. From the standpoint of Stephen, in the world, they are real. so walk with care!

Swami Dayananda often referred to the story of the sage running from a rogue elephant. Here is how Krishnan Sugavanam told it:
“I remember a story which once Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswati narrated. There was a King in whose court there were a number of preceptors from various philosophies, including one from Advaita. The King was very close to the Advaitin and the other philosophers were looking for the first opportunity to prove the Advaitin wrong. One day, when the King and his retinue were walking in a forest, suddenly there appeared a wild
elephant. The Advaitin was the first one to take off and run for cover.

Later, when all of them assembled in the King’s court, preceptors of other philosophies wasted no time in grasping the opportunity to point out to the King, that though the Advaitin taught everything was “Mithya”, he was the first one to run on seeing the wild elephant – and they asked “Why would the Advaitin run on seeing the wild Mithya elephant?” The Advaitin queried them back calmly “yes I did run – but who said my running was Satyam – it was also Mithya”. :-)” Continue reading

Q.410 Teaching the blind

Q: How do you teach Advaita to a blind person ? I am talking about a person who has been blind since birth, who has no vision of external reality/unreality. The adhyAsa bhAShya talks about superimposing the subject and the objects. But both subject and object are not perceived by a person who has been blind since birth. All that he/she would be aware of is taste, smell, sound, sensations. How would you proceed with such a candidate ? The theory of negating the superimposed almost fails for such a person, for he/she cannot ‘see’ or ‘perceive’ what is superimposed !

 I am not saying the avasthA traya is not a good way to start here, the avasthA traya prakriyA holds good for even a blind person. That is, your dream is just like your waking state. But the problem is, there is no perception in either dreams, waking or deep sleep for such a person. Here’s a video that confirms that people who are blind since birth don’t see anything in their dreams : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XpUW9pm9wxs.

If you’re a jIvanmukta, I request you to close your eyes and then tell me if you can still get established in the self, you’d understand how difficult this is !

Thanks for any and all inputs on this subject.

Note: I am aware that Atman is beyond perception, but to know one has gone beyond perception is easy when one still sees and not when he doesn’t see. It’s just the same for a blind man. Continue reading

Q.409 Materialism and Consciousness

Q: Regarding Gaudapada Karika 4.28, what is the best argument you are aware of against the materialist position that consciousness is an emergent phenomenon?   In particular do you think it is inherently illogical to say that consciousness can arise from the inert?

More generally, is it the position of Vedanta that the materialist position is inherently illogical/impossible or simply that it is incorrect because it is contrary to scripture?

A (Dennis): Schopenhauer said that Materialism is “the philosophy of the subject who forgets to take account of himself.” And this really sums up my own view of the situation with respect to Science and its so-called ‘hard problem’. Science is forever trying to discover how consciousness can ‘arise’ from matter and never even considers the possibility that matter might actually be name and form of Consciousness. I.e. Consciousness does not arise from matter, matter (as it were) arises from Consciousness. They view the topic ‘back to front’ because they ignore the significance of the observer. And this is despite their past realisation that the observer cannot be ignored in quantum mechanics, for example.

The term used in the scriptures for the materialist is lokAyata (worldly wise) or Charvaka, after the philosopher of that name who is associated with these beliefs. (They have also been called mAmsa-mImAMsaka-s or ‘flesh philosophers’ because of their belief that we should aim to maximise pleasure in life.) The beliefs are also associated with the god bRRihaspatI and Shankara has sarcastically used this term in a derogatory sense to refer to ‘intellectuals’ who play the role of disputant in his commentaries. Continue reading