Q.360 – Suffering

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAQ: I have tried several spiritual paths and I was always stopped in my search by this question: How do we explain suffering?. Why does all pervading, partless, actionless Consciousness create, allow, dream of Auschwitz? Surely Consciousness could do better than this?

Answers are provided by: Ted, Martin, and Sitara. For answers by Dennis, see Q.24 and Q.33 and Q.62 and Q.120 and Q.294.

A (Ted): Your question is certainly understandable. It is the same question just about everybody has at an early stage in their spiritual understanding. It is based on a fundamental erroneous assumption we make about the nature of reality due to the conditioning we receive either directly from religion or indirectly from the religious beliefs that undergird the generally accepted perception of reality that informs the society.

 Our mistaken assumption is that awareness is an anthropomorphic (i.e. human-like) entity who has some overarching personal agenda and is orchestrating—or at least overseeing—the activities and events transpiring in the world with a vested interest in their nature and results. But this is not the nature of awareness.

 As you state in your query, awareness is all pervading, partless, and actionless. All three of these aspects of awareness preclude any possibility of awareness being a creator, doer, or even an “allower.” In fact, its all-pervasive nature alone renders awareness incapable of acting. Because there is nothing other than it and thus no location where it is not, awareness has no “arena” in which to move. Because it has no boundaries by which it can be distinguished as a discrete entity in contrast to a contextual background or any other entity, there is no way for it to undergo any change. Therefore, since movement or change is the defining characteristic of action, its absence as an aspect of awareness makes awareness by definition actionless.

 In addition, because it is partless, awareness has no attributes, organs, or “equipment” with which to act. And what’s more, due to the fact that awareness is all-pervasive, it is whole, complete, full, and neither lacks nor needs anything. Thus, awareness harbors absolutely no desire that could possibly compel it to act.

It is for these reasons that awareness is actionless, not because it is some entity that is choosing not to act.

Awareness simply is. It is the self-dependent, self-effulgent “light” by means of “whose” illumination all objects, both gross (i.e., tangible objects) and subtle (i.e. sensations, thoughts, and emotions), are known. It doesn’t try to illumine objects so that they can be known. Rather, its nature is illumination. It doesn’t direct its “light” toward or turn its “light” upon anything. It simply is the all-pervasive, ever-shining “light” in which all things appear.

In fact, you can verify the actionless nature of awareness for yourself through a simple inquiry into your own experience. For you are awareness. THE awareness. Awareness is all-pervasive, remember, so reality is non-dual. Due to the limited mind-body-sense mechanism with which you, awareness, have associated in order to have a human experience, your scope is limited. But your essential nature is the same awareness as absolute awareness. Just as the space inside a pot is no different from the space surrounding it, your seemingly personal awareness is no different from universal awareness. So, bearing that in mind, do you—not Juan, mind you, but the awareness to whom Juan is known or the “light” in which Juan appears—have to try to “shine” or exist? Do you have to try to know the objects that appear within the scope of your being (i.e., awareness)? Granted, there are things you in the guise of an apparent individual do inquire into or study or make an effort to experience or understand, but that’s not the issue here. Here, we are talking about the spontaneous perception of whatever objects present themselves within the scope of your (i.e., the apparent individual’s) perceptive organs and mind. For instance, when the sun is shining, you don’t have to try to see the sun. You “illumine” the object of sunshine and spontaneously experience it. Such is the nature of pure awareness—though, to be clear, awareness itself is not even an experiencer. It is the “light” by means of which it is possible for the intellect of the apparent individual to experience and know objects.

The bottom line is that awareness itself doesn’t do anything.

However, within awareness there exists a power called maya, or ignorance. Maya has two powers: concealing and projecting. It causes awareness to apparently forget its true attributeless, all-pervasive, actionless nature, and then it projects the vast array of objects that comprise the manifest universe on the “screen” of awareness, thus making awareness seem to be all the objects, interactions, and events taking place in the “creation.” The “creation,” however, is not real. It is simply a projection, an apparent reality that is no more real than a dream.

So, to repeat, awareness itself isn’t actually doing anything.

When pure awareness “mixes with” or is conditioned by its own inherent power of ignorance, it seems to forget who it really is and assumes the apparent identity of Isvara, or God-the-Creator. Thus, blasphemous as it may sound, ignorance is actually the nature of God.

To be clear, ignorance doesn’t mean stupidity in the relative sense of not knowing facts and figures or being naïve about “the ways of the world.” Rather, ignorance in this context refers to not knowing the true nature of reality, the essence of all the names, forms, and functions that abound in the universe.

When we say that God created the world, what we are really saying is that ignorance veiled the true nature of non-dual awareness and projected upon the “screen” of its being the dualistic universe. Therefore, ignorance, not awareness, is the “cause” of both the bad and the good, the dark and the light, the positive and the negative, the beautiful and ugly, the kindness and the cruelty that are intrinsic to dualistic existence. Awareness is neither executing nor sanctioning the actions occurring within the “movie” of the apparent reality. Awareness is simply the “light” that illumines the projection.

Even ignorance, or God, is not a volitional anthropomorphic entity orchestrating events according to some personal agenda, or, worse, testing the allegiance of individuals by subjecting them to a battery of alluring temptations and then severely punishing those who disobey his rules or succumb to his enticements.

God is simply the set of impersonal and inviolable dharmas (i.e., universal physical, psychological, and ethical laws) that govern the cause-and-effect functioning of the apparent reality (i.e., manifest universe). There is no personal agenda involved. Awareness has no volition and is incapable of doing and so it doesn’t try to delude itself. Ignorance is an insentient object—power is an object, for it can be observed and experienced—and thus has no personal will and so it doesn’t try to condition awareness. It is simply the way it is. Maya conditions pure awareness and thereby projects the dualistic universe, which operates according to impersonal laws that maintain its overall harmony, balance, and wellbeing.

Admittedly, from our perspective as apparent individuals, it doesn’t always seem as though what is happening is serving the best interests of the total. But earnest and honest scrutiny does bear out the fact that life is essentially a zero-sum game. For every pleasure, there is a pain. For every loss, there is a gain. Thus, while ignorance is responsible for seeming injustice and consequent suffering, it is also inherently self-corrective and infallibly sustains the cohesive functioning of its projection.

Essentially, the apparent reality is a gigantic mechanism that is capable of continuously reconfiguring itself in order to accommodate any action executed within itself in such a way that will serve the best interests of the total mechanism. In other words, all actions are integrated into the dharma-governed chain of cause-and-effect that sustains the functionality of the mechanism. Its laws are impersonal and inviolable. For instance, fire burns so if you stick your finger in a flame it will get burned. In terms of ethical values, a sense of dharma (i.e. right and wrong) is part of our programming, so to speak. If we lie, cheat, steal, or otherwise injure someone, we feel guilty and experience an agitated mind. Thus, all deeds meet with their just rewards, so to speak. This is the basis of the saying that what goes around comes around.

Though this understanding does not warrant turning a blind eye to moral atrocities or failing to address ethical transgressions, it does help alleviate the unbridled umbrage, existential angst, and inconsolable suffering that ensues from believing the world to be inherently unjust. When we understand that the apparent reality is taking care of itself, and, moreover, that the apparent reality is just that—only an apparent projection within awareness—and thus has no affect on the essential nature of awareness, it enables us to do our best in any given circumstance to uphold dharma while simultaneously accepting things as they are. In short, while pain persists (and indeed calls upon us for an appropriate response), suffering ceases.

 Upon analysis, we realize that all ethical transgressions and existential angst are rooted in self-ignorance. As has been shown, awareness is neither executing nor sanctioning injustice, and it is not the cause of suffering. Instead, ignorance is the culprit. Because we are ignorant of our true identity as whole, complete, limitless, all-pervasive, ever-present, non-dual awareness and believe we are limited, inadequate, and incomplete, we pursue objects that we hope will complete us and thereby provide us with lasting happiness and permanent peace. When our desire or perceived need for these objects becomes too strong, we are compelled to seek them at all cost—even if we have to violate the universal value of non-injury. If you contemplate this point, you will see that on both the microcosmic (i.e., personal) level and the macrocosmic (i.e., societal or global) level this basic ignorance is invariably the cause of all the unethical and immoral behavior in the world.

Though unethical and immoral behavior will never be eliminated from the world, for they are intrinsic to the dualistic nature of the apparent reality, one’s personal suffering can be alleviated by the removal of self-ignorance through the assimilation of self-knowledge. Understanding the true nature of reality enables one to bear the pain that is an integral and unavoidable aspect of worldly life without being swept away by feelings of anger, impotence, and/or grief. And understanding one’s own true nature frees one from the compelling desire to seek fulfillment through objects and the endless frustration caused by their inability to provide lasting satisfaction. Thus, one neither continues to wallow in a state of self-pity nor compound one’s own suffering as well as that of the world through the execution of deviant actions. Knowing one’s true nature to be both whole and the whole, one plays one’s role within the grand drama of the apparent reality to the hilt while simultaneously reveling in one’s own inherent peace and happiness.

A (Martin): Consciousness or Awareness does not create, or allow for, anything. It is only a pure, actionless, impassible witness. It should not be difficult to understand that all difficulties in understanding reside in an unprepared, unaided mind, and this includes the seemingly intractable ‘problem’ that you allude to: ‘the problem of evil’.

Concerning good and evil, suffering and enjoyment, there is an interesting passage in one of the main texts of Advaita Vedanta, the Brahma Sutras. As the teaching goes there is no essential difference between the individual and Brahman (Consciousness or the Absolute). But then, an objector observes:

On account of the other (the individual soul) being stated as non-different from Brahman there would arise (in Brahman) the defect of not doing what is beneficial.

In his commentary to this passage Shankara, the greatest Indian philosopher, admits: If Brahman were the cause of the world, He/It would be open to that charge, and He would not be omniscient. Rather, It/He would have created a world where everything would have been pleasant for the individual soul, without the least trace of misery…

In the sequence, the scripture (sruti) itself retorts: … Brahman is something more than the individual soul. Shankara then comments: He (the Creator God) knows the unreality of the world and what is taken to be an individual, and is not attached to them, being merely a witness. He has neither good nor evil… For the individual soul, however, there is good and evil so long as it is in ignorance… the differences between the individual soul and the Creator are based on imaginary distinctions due to ignorance. It is only when Knowledge dawns that the individual soul realizes its identity with Brahman. Then all plurality vanishes, and there is neither the individual soul nor he Creator.

A (Sitara): Maybe you noticed yourself that your question “why does all pervading, partless, actionless Consciousness create, allow, dream of Auschwitz? This Consciousness could not do better than this?” is a contradiction in terms.

Something that is actionless can neither create, allow, dream or do better than this; simply because it does not act. Consciousness is the very substance of all, meaning, it is in and through you, me, and everything else that is. Consciousness is not separate from anything; in the final analysis consciousness is all there is.

But it certainly does not seem like this. For most people there seems to be a lot of separation, i.e. there seems to be a multitude of good and bad stuff around, not just one consciousness. According to Advaita this impression is based on an inborn misconception: beginningless ignorance. Luckily it is possible to end it.

Why luckily? Because the very idea of separation leads to suffering.

Suffering is part and parcel of the misconception.

In short: Advaita says that suffering is brought about by ignorance. Knowledge, therefore, is the only antidote to suffering. Advaita Vedanta is the path of knowledge. Advaita Vedanta goes to the very roots of the problem because the end of ignorance (i.e. knowledge) will result in the end of suffering. Therefore this path is not about ending suffering but about ending ignorance.

You ask for an explanation of suffering. I am sure that in all the approaches that you have discarded you must have come across a lot of different explanations for suffering (it is the devil tempting us, it is god testing us, it is due to original sin etc. etc.). So behind your question seems to be the idea that a proper spiritual path should be able to end suffering, not just explain it. Advaita Vedanta is able to explain suffering as well as end suffering. But not in the way you may expect.

In the preparation of the seeker he learns to act according to dharma, which basically means that he learns to not do to others what he does not want others to do to him. The effect of this is that he will be much less likely to cause suffering to others. Even though this measure will not end suffering completely it does contribute to making the world a better place.

But Advaita Vedanta is not about making the world a better place, so dharma is not considered an end in itself. Acting according to dharma is for one’s mind to become calm and clear – because this is the kind of mind that the seeker needs in order to understand that he (and everything else) is all pervading, partless, actionless consciousness. Only this understanding will end his suffering for good.

Please feel free to challenge what I said. I (and I am sure others too) will be happy to take up any objection or question.

21 thoughts on “Q.360 – Suffering

  1. Hi all,

    I have a couple of questions for you.

    Firstly, Sitara noted the Vedantic teaching around the ‘ending of beginingless ignorance’. But, I think it is Gaudapada in mandukyakarika that notes that something that is eternal can never change its nature, and ditto something that is temporary. This makes sense to me. Logically, I struggle with how something which is beginingless can have an end. Am I missing something?

    Secondly, Vedanta says that we are just pure consciousness, which projects the world and the jiva, and the body-mind of the jiva subsequently believes it is a body-mind that is separate from the world, and does not realise its identity with pure consciousness. Ted – and Dennis – in their writing imply that understanding one’s own true nature frees one from the compelling desire to seek fulfillment through objects and the endless frustration caused by their inability to provide lasting satisfaction. But surely ‘understanding of non-separation’ is just another thought that arises on the screen of consciousness, and admittedly delivers some freedom from suffering to an apparent jiva. But the jive’s thoughts are still there, albeit ones of conviction of non-duality.

    Isn’t liberation something more, as per Bhagavan Ramana, JK and Nisargadatta. Specifically, thought itself coming to an end (not through force), such that pure consciousness just is. As such, words cannot touch it. Then there is just wei wu wei, inaction in action. This can be the only freedom that is talked of.

    • The understanding of non-separateness is a thought, but it is the ultimate thought, we might say. It is the single thought that is in harmony with the true nature of reality.

      Assimilation of this understanding delivers more than “some freedom from suffering to an apparent jiva.” What does “some freedom” mean anyway? By definition, freedom means “boundless.” The idea of enjoying “some freedom” is a bit like being “a little pregnant.” You are either free or you are not. Think about it.

      At any rate, assimilating the understanding of non-separation ends awareness’s maya-induced identification with the mind-body-sense complex and thereby liberates the jiva from the erroneous idea that it is an individual at all. Hence, there remains no jiva who suffers.

      This doesn’t mean that experience—including thinking—ends. It means that the jiva’s intellect know that as pure awareness the jiva is free of all experience. Thereafter, as long as prarabdha karma remains, life for the jiva goes on. Awareness remains associated with the mind-body-sense complex, but no longer identifies with it.

      Despite its vilification by ignorant “seekers of enlightenment,” there is nothing inherently bad about thought or wrong with thinking. Thoughts are only apparent objects whose fundamental substratum is awareness. There is no reason to obliterate thoughts altogether (which is impossible anyway given that thought is not under the jiva’s control, but rather arise unbidden from the causal body). Thoughts themselves are not the problem. Wrong thoughts are what give us grief. Thus, we don’t need to remove thoughts. We simply need to correct them.

      It is by cultivating thoughts that align with the true nature of reality that the jiva is liberated from both dependence on objects for happiness and the inevitable suffering that results from the failure of ephemeral phenomena to deliver lasting happiness and permanent fulfillment.

      The idea that moksha, liberation or ultimate inner freedom, is a thought-free state is one of the biggest misconceptions in the spiritual world. Moreover, it makes absolutely no sense.

      First of all, liberation is for the jiva. The self, pure awareness, is already free. If the jiva does not recognize its inherent freedom though thought, how will it be known?

      Second, if all that liberation amounts to is a state in which no thoughts obtain, then we should all be liberated already because we have all experienced deep sleep. But, obviously, the experience of the deep sleep state didn’t solve the problem. Why? Because the intellect was not present to assimilate the knowledge contained in the experience of limitlessness or non-separation. The obliteration of the boundaries that define thought doesn’t eradicate ignorance. Only knowledge can remove ignorance. And knowledge requires thought.

      Third, if we were to grant that liberation is the elimination of thought, then we have effectively rendered it unattainable and stripped all meaning from the term jivanmukta. As mentioned, thought is not under the control of the jiva as thoughts arise unbidden from the causal body, which is essentially Isvara. Moreover, thoughts are an integral aspect of the mind-body-sense complex, which is basically a mechanism that manufactures and processes experience via thought. Hence, in the absence of thought the jiva, which is essentially nothing more than a thought itself, ceases to be. Such is the point made in the Mandukya Upanishad about the deep sleep state.

      In addition, the very beings that are held up as icons of mental vacuity—Ramana Maharshi, Nisargadatta Maharaj, JK, among others—all walked and talked and interacted with the world just like any other jiva. Obviously, the content, quality, and perhaps even quantity of their thoughts differed from the run-of-the-mill samsari, but these self-realized beings were not brain-dead zombies by any means. Think about it. There are books filled with their thoughts.

      As long as prarabdha karma remains, thought will obtain. The self-realized jiva simply knows he is entirely free of thoughts in the sense that he is not identified with them and knows that no thought has any affect whatsoever on his essential nature as pure limitless awareness.

      Finally, “thought-free” is not a characteristic of pure awareness. Pure awareness has no characteristics, qualities, or attributes. Pure awareness is thought-free by nature. Thoughts are only apparent phenomena arising out of, abiding in, subsiding back into, and comprised entirely of nothing other than pure awareness. Hence, from the point of view of pure awareness, there are no such things as thoughts per se. There is only awareness.

      Thus, when the jiva knows his true nature to be pure limitless awareness and has assimilated the “understanding of non-separation,” he realizes that despite the appearance of objects within the scope of his being, awareness alone is.

  2. Dear Wentzu:

    Your puzzlement about ‘beginningless ignorance’ is understandable, since it, evidently, has, or can have, an end. However, avidya is a ‘false’ concept, applicable only to the empirical field (mithya), and it essentially consists in mistaking something for what it is not, as you know. It is characterized by Shankara as the ‘source of all evil’. Also, it is not ‘undefinable’, as has been said by some.

    ‘Beginning’ and ‘ending’ belong to time; they are concepts which have no place when referring to the reality which is Brahman. And mind, or avidya, is the conjurer of time. Besides, obviously avidya cannot be understood as a series of individual avidya flowing in a continuous stream, which would merit the word ‘beginningless’. I believe this has also been written, believed, about it.

    I actually don’t see anything wrong with what Sitara and Dennis wrote. You write: “surely ‘understanding of non-separation’ is just another thought that arises on the screen of consciousness.” But is it just one more thought among many other thoughts? That understanding, anubhava, or akandhakara writti, is that event, call it thought, which ends all ‘modifications’ of the mind, that is, it ends any hold they may have on the latter. This is something which, you may recall, was dealt with here, AV, not long ago. With kind regards,

    Martin. (Thought cannot come to an end – except for short periods; mind is too dynamic, thinking being its own business)

  3. Martin

    Gaudapada, Mandukya 3.21:
    “The immortal cannot become mortal, nor can the mortal ever become immortal. For, it is never possible for a thing to change its nature.”

    The whole purport of Gaudapada here is viveka into the nature of the world as we see it and the nature of Brahman.
    By saying that ignorance is beginningless but that it can come to an end, essentially says that something that is immortal is changing its nature to come to an end. Saying that this is just in the empirical field is ducking the issue, because the upanishad is pointing out the difference between empirical world and reality.

    On your second point, “that event, call it thought, which ends all ‘modifications’ of the mind, that is, it ends any hold they may have on the latter”.
    But what is the mind on which thoughts no longer have a hold?? Surely in the context of the question of suffering, liberation is just the ending of the stream thoughts of suffering, greed, envy, pride, etc. Because in Vedanta, we have established that there is “no mind” to talk about; it is just another erroneous conceptual thought that signals a separate, false I. Hence the ajata vada of Mandukyakarika 2.32: “none in bondage, none aspiring for wisdom, no seeker of liberation and none liberated”.

    Also I would point out Mandukyakarika 3.31 and 3.32
    “All these dual objects comprising everything that is movable and immovable, perceived by the mind (are mind alone). For duality is never experienced when the mind ceases to act.”
    “When the mind does not imagine on account of the knowledge of the Truth which is Atman, then it ceases to be mind and becomes free from all idea of cognition, for want of objects to be cognised”

    Best wishes,
    venkat

  4. Dear Venkat,

    The non-existence of an object that is made (say a pot out of clay) was beginningless before its creation, but comes to an end on its formation. My ignorance of differential calculus was beginningless before I learned it, but came to an end when I studied it at school. It had to be beginningless; otherwise, I would have to say that I used to know it but had since forgotten it.

    There are all sorts of other problems relating to ignorance, such as its locus. Presumably there have to be lots of individual ignorances; otherwise, when one person gains self-knowledge, all others will too. If you want to immerse yourself in the various explanations and arguments, read Swami Satchidanandendra’s ‘The Method of the Vedanta’. It will keep you occupied for some considerable time!

    Regarding ‘freedom’, we are already free. It is the mind that thinks otherwise, so it has to be a thought in the mind that changes the outlook at the ‘dawning of mokSha’. As I think I said in another thread, desires and fears do not necessarily disappear upon ‘enlightenment’. The key difference is that we now know that we, the world, the desires and fears, and their fruits, and everything else is mithyA. So none of it really matters.

    Best wishes,
    Dennis

  5. Dear Dennis,

    Not really. Ignorance only arises on the arising of a jiva. In fact they are correlated. A pot made of clay, was still clay before the form of a pot arose; you are a chemistry major – something does not come out of nothing!

    I do have “Method of Vedanta”, but I haven’t mustered the courage to read it yet!

    And the paradox with saying that moksha is when “we know that we, the world . . . everything else is mithya” . . . is what it the “we” that knows?? It implies a separation where there is none. But perhaps that is just the limitation of words.

    Best wishes

    venkat

  6. Dear Venkat,

    I was saying that the pot does not exist before its creation (not the clay). I know that the reality of the pot IS clay but isn’t this the point? The clay does not hold my coffee in a convenient form for drinking; the form of the pot has to be ‘created’ from the clay. Before this, it did not exist (in the form of pot) and this non-existence was beginningless. But I think this is all really just playing with words!

    Regarding the ‘we’ ‘knowing’, we all know what is meant here and it is a vyAvahArika viewpoint. Of course, there is no separation (and no ‘knowing’) from the pAramArthika position.

    Best wishes,
    Dennis

  7. P.S. SSS did write a much shorter, earlier version of his ‘Method’ and A. J. Alston has also translated this under the title ”The Heart of Sri Shankara’. It is, relatively speaking, much more readable! Here is a quote:

    120. The existence ot Ignorance is itself imagined
    Perhaps you will suggest that Ignorance can have a positive and existent object and locus. These, you may say, do not come to an end when Ignorance does.
    Well, that might have been possible if Ignorance was a reality which actually came to an end. But the reality of Ignorance itself is something that is merely imagined. How could one speak of it (properly) as coming to an end? Not only is Ignorance not found in dreamless sleep and similar states – but even in waking and dream, when there is belief in its existence, adequate reflection shows that there is no reality ‘Ignorance’ over and above different forms of (wrong) knowledge.

    Best wishes,
    Dennis

  8. To Ted, Martin, Sitara and Dennis:
    I apologize for replying to your comments so late but I could not log in until yesterday. Thanks from the bottom of my heart for taking the time to share with me your thoughts about my topic (…and nightmare: suffering).
    Before providing you with my reactions to your comments, please keep always in your mind that I am not trying to be mean or smart … I am trying to be honest according to my guts feelings, trying to remember the best that I can the beautiful things that I read from Wei Wu Wei, Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta Maharaj. Although I don’t trust my intellect anymore … I still keep reading these authors just in case that a miracle happens, making me understand what so far is just only smart readings.
    Ted, when I read your reply the first time, all my alarms went on (remember: alarms equal warning guts feelings). Why? In your answer, you use the word “apparent” fifteen” times… and for me, the suffering of seven million people that vanished into smoke in Auschwitz, cannot be related to anything closed to apparent. Please, notice that neither I am Jewish nor a political person with an agenda. No at all: I am using Auschwitz (i.e. concentration camps) because for me is kind of a magnifying glass highlighting the pain and misery of the human race. I can give you another example: a little girl, 5 years old, is kidnapped from her backyard, sexually assaulted and then finally murdered with a knife … only five years old … can you imagine her terror, her pain, her misery, her isolation, confronting her horrific death alone? You can find Auschwitz around any corner … you don’t need to go to Poland.

    In your reply, Ted, it seems that we agree upon Awareness being parless, actionless and all pervading. Everything is Awareness so because of this unity, I infer that free will is disregarded because, within Awareness, it cannot be an agent with a different agenda. Remember, the only thing that IS is Awareness.

    But you say:
    “Due to the limited mind-body-sense mechanism with which you, awareness, have associated in order to have a human experience, your scope is limited. ”

    Why does Awareness need to associate with a mind-body-sense mechanism to have a human experience? She is everything, including any experience. If Awareness is the only thing real, why does she need to create such a mechanism and then wrongly associate with it? I say wrongly because then Awareness APPARENTLY forgets its attachment to this mechanism …why does she forget? And if Awareness forgets, it is not apparent …. Either IT forgets or IT doesn’t. It seems that the word apparent is being used as a filler filling an unexplainable gap. And after ITS attachment, Awareness will use the whole life trying to destroy this APPARENT association (ie.: awakening).
    But suppose that Awareness DOES associates with a mind-body-sense mechanism to have a human experience … Because Awareness has the choice to associate, I imply that Awareness, being everything that IS, then Awareness is also the experience, the experiencer and the experiencing…. So Awareness creates the characters in the movie, creates the plot of the movie and becomes the screen where the movie is being projected, being also the light that makes the whole process possible.
    So, according to my original questions, Awareness is the little Jewish kid marching to the gas chamber … Awareness also is the SS guard closing the door of the gas chamber … Awareness is also the gas chamber itself and Awareness is also the Zyclon gas used to exterminate the little kid.
    I know that we need the whole universe to be created in advance if you want to make a simple apple pie. Well, same here: the Zyclon gas, the gas chamber, the little kid and the SS guard existed potentially in Awareness until the time was ripe for them to get all together in the same picture and played the roles according to the script concocted by Awareness.
    So, I still have my burning question unanswered: I don’t question death … I question the way of dying, implying misery, suffering , animalizing a person until he/she is not any more recognizable as a human being with only a way out: suicide …. How do you explain this suicide? Is Awareness killing himself/herself because the pain is not tolerable anymore?
    In summary: if Awareness is everything, is Awareness also Auschwitz? If positive, could Awareness be considered as a perverted part of Awareness? But Awareness is partless …

    • ‘Evil’ and suffering

      One way (the only way?) to find the answers to human suffering, which is intimately and perdurably associated with fear and death (Samsara, the wheel of births and deaths), is to let oneself be immersered in that human grief and suffering, taste it rather than trying to avoid or escape from it; because from a lower perspective – the conventional, empirical or common sense one – there is no explanation, and no escape. One has to fathom the extent of that suffering, which is closely linked with an equally penetrating yearning or aspiration – another human emotion or feeling, which is not there for no reason. Only then can a meaning be found, rising out of the depths, like the phoenix bird rising out of the ashes of its own destruction or annihilation…

      And it is through love, that power beyond a conventional rationality which pales in comparison with it, that the spirit can surge. There is no meaning to suffering, even to life, from this lower level of reason and intellect; no explanations to be found there. We have to listen to the voice of the poets and mystics – those of all traditions; the clue or clues are with them, if not necessarily with all of them. They are the great poets of medieval Persia and the ancient seers of India. Here is one such voice of a more recent past, that of Fry Luis de León, a Spanish poet:

      When I regard the heavens adorned with innumerable lights,
      And look toward the earth surrounded by night,
      Buried in sleep and oblivion, love and grief awaken within my breast
      An ardent yearning; my eyes, transformed into a spring,
      Pour out an abundant stream; finally my tongue says with woeful voice:
      “Dwelling place of grandeur, temple of brightness and beauty, what curse holds my soul,
      Born for your heights, trapped in this low, dark prison?
      What mortal error so separates my senses from the truth that,
      Forgetful of your divine treasure, lost, it pursues empty shadows and false treasures?
      Man surrenders to sleep, taking no thought for his destiny;
      And with silent tread the heavens go round and steal his hours of life
      …………………………

      Can inmortal souls, created for so great a blessing,
      Live on shadows and falseness alone?
      Alas, raise your eyes to this eternal, celestial sphere:
      You will then escape the illusions of this seductive life
      And all that it hopes and fears.
      Is the low and graceles earth more tan a mere point
      When compared to this great transfiguration,
      Where in a better state lives whar is, what will be,
      And what has been?

      And here are the words of Jñanesvar, one of the greatest mystics and sages of India:

      If the question be asked, “What it is that ultimately lops off this tree of existence? – a tree whose root is placed in the Eternal, and whose branches move down in the world of men – what it is that puts an end to this vast tree of exsistence”, the answer is simple: to know that it is unreal is to be able to destroy it altogether. A child may be frightened by a pseudo-demon; but does the demon exist for the matter of it? Can one really throw down the castle in the air? Is it possible to break the horn of a hare? Can we pluck the flowers in the skies? The tree itself is unreal; why then should we trouble about rooting it up? It is like the infinite progeny of a barren woman. What is the use of talking about the dream-things of a man who is awake?…. Can one rear crops on the waters of a mirage? The tree itself is unreal, and to know that it is unreal is sufficient to destroy it.

    • I’ve inserted my responses to your inquiry within the text of you entry. Thought it makes for a nice dialogue…

      To Ted, Martin, Sitara and Dennis:

      I apologize for replying to your comments so late but I could not log in until yesterday. Thanks from the bottom of my heart for taking the time to share with me your thoughts about my topic (…and nightmare: suffering).

      Before providing you with my reactions to your comments, please keep always in your mind that I am not trying to be mean or smart … I am trying to be honest according to my guts feelings, trying to remember the best that I can the beautiful things that I read from Wei Wu Wei, Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta Maharaj. Although I don’t trust my intellect anymore … I still keep reading these authors just in case that a miracle happens, making me understand what so far is just only smart readings.

      Ted: A miracle is what you will need in order to reach any kind of resolute understanding of the nature of reality and how to function in the world as a liberated being if you read only Wei Wu Wei, Ramana Maharshi, and Nisargadatta Maharaj. Sounds utterly blasphemous in the non-dual world, I know, but while undoubtedly these gentlemen were brahmanishtas (i.e., self-realized beings; beings who had gained self-knowledge and moksha, or liberation), none were shrotriyas (i.e., qualified teachers of Vedanta). They had no teaching methodology and did not know how to unfold the implied meaning of the words of scripture nor guide a student through a systematic investigation and logical analysis of the student’s previously unexamined experience that would reveal pure awareness as the substratum supporting all experience.

      Jucafern314: Ted, when I read your reply the first time, all my alarms went on (remember: alarms equal warning guts feelings). Why? In your answer, you use the word “apparent” fifteen” times… and for me, the suffering of seven million people that vanished into smoke in Auschwitz, cannot be related to anything closed to apparent. Please, notice that neither I am Jewish nor a political person with an agenda. No at all: I am using Auschwitz (i.e. concentration camps) because for me is kind of a magnifying glass highlighting the pain and misery of the human race. I can give you another example: a little girl, 5 years old, is kidnapped from her backyard, sexually assaulted and then finally murdered with a knife … only five years old … can you imagine her terror, her pain, her misery, her isolation, confronting her horrific death alone? You can find Auschwitz around any corner … you don’t need to go to Poland.

      Ted: Your issue with my use of the word “apparent” seems to stem from a lack of understanding with regard to what this term means within the context of the teachings of Vedanta.

      It is true that reality is non-dual and, thus, awareness is the only “thing” that exists. But for the purposes of analysis, Vedanta divides existence into two fundamental categories: the real (satyam) and the apparent (mithya).

      The term “apparent” does not mean that whatever subject it qualifies does not exist or lacks importance within the context of the manifest universe. It simply means that while the objective phenomenon referred to as apparent is existent, it is not real.

      When we say that something is not real, we mean that it has no independent substantiality of its own. In other words, its existence is dependent on something else. The logical analysis of experience irrefutably reveals that the existence of all objects in the manifest universe—in fact the existence of the entire manifest universe itself—is entirely dependent on awareness. Remove the “light” of awareness and no objects, events, people, sensations, emotions, or thoughts can be known. And only by virtue of being known can something be said to exist. By analogy, we can compare the manifest universe, both its “inner” aspect (i.e., thoughts and feelings) and its “outer” aspect (i.e., the seemingly surrounding world of tangible objects), to a dream. Just as the dream world is depends for its existence on the mind of the dreamer, so the manifest universe depends for its existence on pure awareness.

      Moreover, Vedanta defines “real” as that which is permanent, unchanging, always present, and non-negatable. Therefore, given the fact that under analysis every objective phenomenon on both the gross and subtle levels of being is in a continuous state of flux, the entire manifest universe, including all the people, objects, events, thoughts, feelings, ideas, beliefs, opinions, memories, and fantasies—that is, in Nisargadatta’s words, everything perceivable and conceivable—is nothing more than an apparent reality.

      The apparent reality operates according to the law of karma (i.e., the inviolable law of cause-and-effect) and is governed by dharma (i.e., the universal physical, psychological, and ethical laws that imbue the manifest universe with a sense of order).

      Isvara is the name used to personify the macrocosmic causal body, which is the subtle storehouse of all the vasanas, or impressions (in this context, the conceptual building blocks for creation rather than the individual’s likes and dislikes, which arise later as a result of experiencing the objects fashioned out of these impressions), that constitute “creation,” or the manifest apparent universe. Isvara, or the macrocosmic causal body, is brought about by the curious conjunction of absolute awareness and its inherent power of ignorance, or maya. Though there is no explanation for how, given that absolute awareness or reality is non-dual, or why, given that absolute awareness has no desire, this conjunction occurs, it seems, in experiential terms, that when absolute awareness wields it power of ignorance it seemingly falls under the spell of that ignorance and apparently forgets its true identity and thereafter manifests as the relative universe. Hence, the equation of Isvara and the macrocosmic causal body, or the body that causes the appearance of the manifest universe. In Western terms Isvara is referred to as God-the-Creator.

      From Isvara’s perspective, many events are taking place and innumerable people are performing actions. Rather than the collected exploits of a vast array of volitional individuals, however, it is essentially Isvara alone who is overseeing, orchestrating, and enacting all that occurs on both the gross and subtle levels of the field of experience.

      The field of experience, or the apparent reality, can be likened to a gigantic intelligently designed machine with myriad components that contribute to its functioning. These components are essentially the upadhis, or limiting adjuncts, the names and forms, that constitute the costumes, we might say, that disguise absolute awareness and make it appear as all of the gross and subtle objects that inhabit the apparent universe. This machine, moreover, has a built-in self-regulating capacity. In other words, it is fluid and in a constant state of flux and is, thus, able to self-adjust in order harmonize, heal, or re-establish its balance no matter what “anomalies” might occur within its field of being. In other words, whatever actions are effected within it are absorbed by the field by means of its ability to reconfigure itself in such a way as will accommodate the results of those actions and yet maintain the overall balance and well-being of the whole system or field.

      Although the immediate affects of any given action may appear to be unjust or throw the system out of balance, the adjustment made by the system itself will serve ultimately to “dole out” the appropriate karmic consequences to the apparent doer or perpetrator of the action, and in this way the apparently disturbed or disrupted balance of the system will be reestablished in a way that is in the best interests of the total.

      All of the karma, or action, that takes place in the field of experience is dictated by two factors: 1) the gunas – i.e. sattva (purity, beauty, intelligence), rajas (passion, activity, projection), and tamas (dullness, inertia, denial) – or the three qualities that in various mixtures comprise everything in existence, and 2) the vasanas – i.e. the impressions one is left with as a result of experience, which depending upon their quality form and eventually manifest as an individual’s preferences, likes and dislikes, desires and fears, and when reinforced through repetitive indulgence become “binding” and compel one to behave at their behest rather than at the directive of dharma. Both the gunas and the vasanas originate from the macrocosmic causal body, and therefore are in fact brought into existence and visited upon any given individual as the result of the natural design and functioning of the field, or, in personified terms, as the result of Isvara’s will.

      The bottom line of this overview of the dynamics of the apparent reality is that there is essentially no doer doing anything. The apparent individual is actually an inert machine, so it is not executing actions on its own. And pure awareness—due to its all-pervasiveness, which allows it no context within which to act; attributelessness, which affords it no instruments with which to act; immutability, which makes it incapable of action since action is defined by change; and perfect fullness, which renders it desireless and thus entirely unmotivated to act—is not doing anything either. All that can be said is that when awareness illumines the three-bodied arena of the apparent reality, action happens.
      There is no reason why the apparent reality is the way it is. It simply is this way. For some unfathomable reason, awareness seems to be playing a grand game of hide-and-seek with itself whereby its own inherent power of maya (i.e., ignorance) seemingly causes awareness to forget its limitless nature and assume the appearance of limited objective phenomena. In other words, maya conceals the limitless nature of pure awareness and then projects upon the “blank screen of being” the movie of the manifestation.

      Jucafern314: In your reply, Ted, it seems that we agree upon Awareness being partless, actionless and all pervading. Everything is Awareness so because of this unity, I infer that free will is disregarded because, within Awareness, it cannot be an agent with a different agenda. Remember, the only thing that IS is Awareness.

      But you say:

      “Due to the limited mind-body-sense mechanism with which you, awareness, have associated in order to have a human experience, your scope is limited.”

      Why does Awareness need to associate with a mind-body-sense mechanism to have a human experience? She is everything, including any experience. If Awareness is the only thing real, why does she need to create such a mechanism and then wrongly associate with it? I say wrongly because then Awareness APPARENTLY forgets its attachment to this mechanism…why does she forget? And if Awareness forgets, it is not apparent… Either IT forgets or IT doesn’t. It seems that the word apparent is being used as a filler filling an unexplainable gap. And after ITS attachment, Awareness will use the whole life trying to destroy this APPARENT association (i.e., awakening).

      Ted: As previously explained, awareness doesn’t need to do anything. Again, there is no satisfactory explanation for why things are as they are. They simply are that way. If limitless awareness were incapable of apparently deluding itself, it wouldn’t be limitless.

      Having said that, however, think about your question. Given that for some unknown reason awareness does have a human experience (though technically awareness itself is not an experiencer, since experience requires the dichotomy of experiencer and experienced object and from its perspective there exists nothing other than itself to experience), how else would awareness have a human experience except by associating with an apparent human being (i.e., mind-body-sense mechanism)?

      And apparently forgetting its true identity as limitless awareness?

      Vedanta says that awareness only apparently forgets its true nature because it is not actually awareness that forgets—or, for that matter, remembers—anything. Awareness is not a personal entity that thinks. It is the “light” that illumines thoughts, which are nothing more than objective phenomena appearing within the scope of its being that are “sculpted” by the vasanas out of the “clay” of the gunas. Awareness “knows” itself all along simply by virtue of being itself. It seems to forget its true identity when it identifies with the limited upadhi of a particular mind-body-sense complex, the mind of which has been programmed to think of itself as a limited individual. We might liken it to the experience of getting really wrapped up in a movie or a video game. We don’t actually forget we are the person watching the movie or playing the game, but we so closely identify with the character and the events transpiring that we think and feel right along with the character we are watching.

      Jucafern314: But suppose that Awareness DOES associates with a mind-body-sense mechanism to have a human experience…

      Ted: Pretty obvious that it does.

      Jucafern314: …Because Awareness has the choice to associate…

      Ted: Again, awareness doesn’t choose to associate with the mind-body-sense complex, as awareness is not a volitional entity. What we personify as choice is simply the affect of maya’s inexplicable presence. That is, due to ignorance, the association takes place.

      Jucafern314: …I imply

      Ted: I don’t mean to sound like a jerk, but just to be clear what you mean is that you “infer.” Infer means to draw a conclusion from the evidence at hand. The evidence implies something, which you then infer.

      Jucafern314: …that Awareness, being everything that IS, then Awareness is also the experience, the experiencer and the experiencing…

      Ted: Close, but not exactly. The experience, the experiencer, and the experiencing are awareness, but awareness is none of these. What is means is that while all three aspects of experience depend on awareness for their existence, awareness itself is ever free of experience and objects. Experience and objects can only appear within the scope of awareness. Whether experience and objects appear or do not appear, however, awareness always is.

      Jucafern314: So Awareness creates the characters in the movie, creates the plot of the movie and becomes the screen where the movie is being projected, being also the light that makes the whole process possible.

      Ted: Awareness doesn’t create. Awareness under the spell of ignorance appears as the manifestation. As previously mentioned, awareness conditioned by maya-upadhi is referred to as Isvara, or God-the-Creator. Awareness is the “light” that illumines the movie projected by Isvara/God/maya/ignorance.
      From the ultimate perspective, it is true that everything is awareness. But awareness is not the names, forms, and functions that comprise the apparent reality. The apparent reality is only a projection. It has no substantiality. It is a subtle point, but that is why maya is said to be “that which makes the impossible possible.” It is impossible that awareness is anything other than what it is, but it appears to be so.

      Jucafern314: So, according to my original questions, Awareness is the little Jewish kid marching to the gas chamber … Awareness also is the SS guard closing the door of the gas chamber … Awareness is also the gas chamber itself and Awareness is also the Zyclon gas used to exterminate the little kid.

      Ted: Yes, so to speak. But technically these phenomena are awareness, but awareness is not them. That is, they do not define awareness. We can say a pot made of clay is clay, but it is not equally true that clay is a pot, for clay can take myriad other forms or no form at all.

      Jucafern314: I know that we need the whole universe to be created in advance if you want to make a simple apple pie. Well, same here: the Zyclon gas, the gas chamber, the little kid and the SS guard existed potentially in Awareness until the time was ripe for them to get all together in the same picture and played the roles according to the script concocted by Awareness.

      Ted: Awareness doesn’t concoct a script, but your statement does raise an issue worth unfolding.

      All the circumstances and experiences of the apparent individual person’s life, including his or her suffering, are the inevitable consequences of his or her past actions (i.e., karma). Thus, harsh as it may sound, the abused child and the Holocaust victim are both experiencing the effects of actions set into motion at an earlier time, perhaps even during a previous incarnation. This is not to say that as individuals these people are personally responsible for their suffering and deserve the horrors being visited upon them.

      Despite the romantic notion of there being a particular individual “soul” transmigrating from body to body throughout innumerable lifetimes who is evolving and growing as a personal entity until one day he or she finally attains saintly perfection, this is not how it is. The subtle body, which is what the scriptures describe as the transmigrating entity, is not exactly a person, though we tend to think of it as such through its association with a particular mind-body-sense complex. Rather, the subtle body is more accurately conceived of as a bundle of vasanas that have grouped together, so to speak. As described earlier, these vasanas are essentially the desires that cause the apparent person to incarnate. In other words, the subtle body or vasana bundle associates itself with a particular mind-body-sense complex whose circumstances provide those vasanas with an appropriate context in which to play out. Those vasanas that remain unexpressed at the end of a given incarnation then remain grouped together as what we call the subtle body and are ejected from the physical body at the time of the apparent person’s demise. These vasanas then reside in a state of dormancy within the causal body until a newly seeded mind-body-sense complex presents itself with which they can associate and through which they can seek expression.

      Thus, it is not the person we currently see before our eyes who is reaping the consequences—or rewards—of his or her so-called past actions. The present apparent person is simple experiencing the karmic consequences cultivated through the subtle body that is now associated with the mind-body-sense complex that constitutes the person’s form.

      All suffering is rooted in self-ignorance. The condition of ignorance with which a person is born, however, cannot be said to be that particular person’s fault. Ignorance is hard-wired into us by maya. In fact, ignorance is our ticket in the door to the grand experiential extravaganza that is the apparent reality. The only reason we desire objects and experiences is because we are ignorant of our inherent wholeness. Because we believe we are incomplete and inadequate, we seek objects and experiences that we hope will complete us. Though we did not choose to be ignorant, we nevertheless find ourselves riddled with desires due to the erroneous notions we have about our innate insufficiency.

      As long as the person remains ignorant, the vasanas associated with the individual’s subtle body run the show. In the form of desires, the vasanas influence the individual’s every action and impel him to try to satisfy them. Moreover, when the pressure of vasanas or desires is strong enough, they can even compel the individual to transgress dharma (i.e., violate universal ethical law) in order to get what he or she wants. This is where the real trouble begins. Such obsession is what leads to the moral atrocities that we see occurring all around us.

      In any event, no person is entirely responsible for his or her actions, as he or she didn’t choose his or her vasanas. Moreover, the events that occur are not from an ultimate perspective volitionally orchestrated actions. Rather they are the inevitable outpicturing of the vasanas. By analogy, we might liken any event to a mixing bowl into which are thrown various ingredients. The ultimate concoction cannot help but be the inevitable result of the combination of those ingredients.

      This is not to say that we shouldn’t act to prevent transgressions of dharma or to rectify situations where such violations have or are occurring. Nor is it to say that a person who violates moral law should not be held accountable for his or her actions. Nor is it to say that the individual should abdicate the modicum of free will with which he has been endowed, refuse to work on his character flaws, and resign himself to the control of his whims and fancies or, worse, his compulsions and perversions. Understanding the impersonal cause of action simply gives us a platform from which we can view the world with compassion. It does not give us carte blanche to do as we please. Nor does it provide us with an escape hatch by means of which we can avoid the karmic consequences of our actions. What goes around will unavoidably come around.

      The fact remains, however, that what is happening in the world on a grand scale—both the beauty and the abominations—is beyond our control. Things happen as they do because things are as they are according to the nature of the apparent dualistic reality. By definition, duality is characterized by the play of the opposites and, thus, includes both good and bad, right and wrong, beauty and ugliness, love and hate. In the absence of either side, the coin cannot exist.

      Jucafern314: So, I still have my burning question unanswered: I don’t question death…

      Ted: You should. There is no such thing as death. Sure, the apparent individual transforms back into elemental form, but awareness remains unchanged. Altogether beyond the parameters of time and space, which are themselves only the subtlest objects arising within the scope of awareness, awareness is subject to neither birth nor death. Think about it. Awareness is never not present. In order to say there was a time when it was not, awareness would have to have been there to see that it wasn’t. Thus, the belief in death resolves into an illogical absurdity.

      Nevertheless, within the context of your point, I grant that the apparent individual does cease to be.

      Jucafern314: I question the way of dying, implying misery, suffering, animalizing a person until he/she is not any more recognizable as a human being with only a way out: suicide….

      Ted: I’m not sure I follow your reasoning here. I’ll assume that you are referring to particular instances when individuals choose to kill themselves.

      Jucafern314: How do you explain this suicide? Is Awareness killing himself/herself because the pain is not tolerable anymore?

      Ted: Awareness is not a volitional entity who chooses to or is even capable of executing actions. Awareness illumines the subtle body (i.e., mind) and whatever vasanas reside therein, so to speak, express through the vehicle of the mind-body-sense complex. The machine runs according to its program. If the program tells the mechanism to abort the mission, then the mechanism may very well do so.

      To reiterate, however, as Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita, awareness neither kills nor can be killed.

      Jucafern314: In summary: if Awareness is everything, is Awareness also Auschwitz? If positive, could Awareness be considered as a perverted part of Awareness? But Awareness is partless…

      Ted: Yes, awareness is everything.

      Thus, from the perspective of its role as Isvara (i.e., God-the-Creator-Sustainer-Destroyer), it takes responsibility for all that occurs—the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly.

      But, again, though all apparent phenomena depend on awareness for their existence, of all objective phenomena pure awareness remains ever free.

      • Hi. It’s Ted again. In lieu of my blasphemous comments concerning Ramana, Nisargadatta, and Wei Wu Wei–all of whom I read voraciously before encountering a traditional Vedanta teacher–I thought it remiss of me to leave you hanging without offering a suggestion concerning where you might find a more complete teaching. I highly recommend reading either of the following books:

        1. “Vedanta: the solution to the fundamental problem” by D. Venugopal. This book is featured on this website.

        2. “How to Attain Enlightenment” by James Swartz. This book unfolds the teachings in a way that is true to the tradition but doesn’t incorporate as much Sanskrit. It might be easier to follow if you are new to traditional Vedanta.

  9. This is an excellent and perfect question.
    Whether Awareness/Consciousness/Iswara/Maya whoever or whatever is either responsible or not responsible for the apparently experience-able world, the fact remains that the experience includes events that suggest suffering . How would knowing the Self, magically make Auschwitz a non suffering event. The question is not about whether we suffer or not upon self-knowledge, the question is why such an event?

    It does appear that Surely Concsiousness can do better than Auschwitz !

    This question has been dealt with variously by various religions under the title “Problem of Evil”. How can a omni-potent, omni-present, omni-scient God be consistent with Evil/Suffering.

    The tough part is realizing the Truth. Knowing absolutely clearly that the Universe/Experience is an Illusion and I am the underlying Absolute Reality. Having cleared that out, we address the “content” of the Illusion.

    The Illusory Experience is “Divine Play”, “Leela”. Its a Play Alright. Like a Movie with a story. A story where everything goes so very well, will make quite a bland uninteresting story. You will yawn so quickly and through the book away. In order to have an engaging experience, it needs to have contents that can “kick” you. So the events that is part of the illusory world have contents that have the ups and downs, highs and lows, the likes and dislikes, and sometimes the lows does get nasty. But the fact is these are part of the illusory experience, providing entertainment. Yes it appears sick. but take a look at today’s role playing games with ammunition, blood and what not, and compare it to good old paddle ball on a DOS machine. both are indeed mere video games. nothing real about them.

  10. Again me, jucafer314, to thank everybody for your kind answers. I am now printing your comments/suggestions that will be “digested” as soon as my understanding allows me. If I am late with my reply, please excuse my delay due to a pending trip to California. THANKS again !!!!

  11. Ted,

    Thanks for your response.

    I’m afraid your argument does not stack up in terms of internal consistency or vedanta.

    You say “cultivating thoughts that align with the true nature of reality that the jiva is liberated from both dependence on objects for happiness and the inevitable suffering . . .” begs the question who and how are thoughts cultivated. That implies an agent that culivates ‘true’ thoughts where an agent does not exist. And in any event, latter in your missive you yourself say that “thought is not under the control of the jiva as thoughts arise unbidden from the causal body”

    Mandukyakarika 3.31 also points to enlightenment where a ‘personal’ mind ceases to act and be free from all idea of cognition.
    “All these dual objects comprising everything that is movable and immovable, perceived by the mind (are mind alone). For duality is never experienced when the mind CEASES TO ACT.”

    Further modern science is now suggesting that thoughts about choices / actions arise AFTER the decision to act has been made. So in that sense, thought really is redundant. And after all, what is thought apart from words and concepts that flow through the mind. Consequently thoughts may not be necessary to act without acting.

    You also note:
    “This doesn’t mean that experience—including thinking—ends. It means that the jiva’s intellect knows that as pure awareness the jiva is free of all experience. Thereafter, as long as prarabdha karma remains, life for the jiva goes on. Awareness remains associated with the mind-body-sense complex, but no longer identifies with it.”

    To say that a no-existent jiva’s intellect knows it is pure awareness implies a separate entity that knows something. If a jiva is non-existent then so is its intellect. So what is there to know that it is pure awareness? If it is just a thought, then this thought is just conceptual words that are arising in awareness. Then to say that awareness identifies with the mind-body-sense complex is also bizarre. How can awareness identify with anything? It is just passive and attribute less; to identify with something means that there is a thought arising in awareness that says “I am that body-mind”. It is the absence of that thought-feeling through all the three states, that is liberation.

    So Vedanta says awareness just is. On that screen of awareness, thoughts arise that identify with one particular locus, which is the maya. Therefore liberation ensues when such erroneous thoughts of identification and separation fall away.

    Finally I have to say that this infatuation with traditional teaching methodology of Vedanta as the only proved method of liberation and asserting that any other approach would require ‘a miracle’ sounds worryingly close to evangelical christianity saying that it is the only path to god.

    Best

    Venkat

    • Hi, Venkat.

      I have inserted my comments within the text of your reply as per my previous response…

      Ted,

      Thanks for your response.

      I’m afraid your argument does not stack up in terms of internal consistency or vedanta.

      You say “cultivating thoughts that align with the true nature of reality that the jiva is liberated from both dependence on objects for happiness and the inevitable suffering . . .” begs the question who and how are thoughts cultivated.

      Ted: Thoughts are not actually cultivated by an independent volitional entity or person, per se. As I mentioned, which you point out later in this response, thoughts enter the subtle body (i.e., mind) unbidden from the causal body. Due to awareness’s erroneous identification with the subtle body, which is not a real identification but rather a trick that awareness apparently plays on itself through its inherent power of maya (i.e., ignorance), awareness experiences these vasana-induced projections (i.e., thoughts) as its own. In other words, when awareness under the deluding spell of ignorance takes itself to be a person, it experiences the subtle objects arising within the scope of its being as its own personally generated thoughts.

      I know it’s a paradox. But that’s maya for ya. Maya is said to be that which makes the impossible possible. It is impossible that awareness forgets itself. It is impossible that there exists anything other than awareness. And yet that is exactly what seems to be.

      Venkat: That implies an agent that cultivates ‘true’ thoughts where an agent does not exist.

      Ted: If there is no agent of thought, then who is it that is doing all this apparent thinking? Who is it that formulated your question? Quite obviously an agent of thought exists. The agent is nothing more than an apparent entity, a projected superimposition on awareness that is made of awareness, and thus it—the projected name, form, and function of the projected object—is not real. Nevertheless, its existence is irrefutable. How else could it be experienced?

      Your argument is like saying that the pot-ness of a clay pot doesn’t exist. And by extension it implies that once clay has assumed the form of a pot it somehow ceases to be. In other words, followed to its logical conclusion, your argument would seem to suggest that if awareness appears in manifested form, neither the form exists due to the facts that the form doesn’t comprehensively define awareness and is actually nothing other than awareness (which is, of course, true) nor does awareness exist due to the fact that if the form is actually nothing other than awareness and the form is non-existent, then by extension awareness must be non-existent (which is, of course, not true).

      Venkat: And in any event, latter in your missive you yourself say that “thought is not under the control of the jiva as thoughts arise unbidden from the causal body.”

      Mandukyakarika 3.31 also points to enlightenment where a ‘personal’ mind ceases to act and be free from all idea of cognition. “All these dual objects comprising everything that is movable and immovable, perceived by the mind (are mind alone). For duality is never experienced when the mind CEASES TO ACT.”

      Ted: But what does “CEASES TO ACT” mean? If it simply means that it doesn’t think, then all one has to do to be enlightened is either go to sleep or be in some brain-dead state of being.

      Of course, it is true that duality is never experienced when the mind CEASES TO ACT. How could it be? The only thing that perceives/experiences duality is the mind. This is the reason that we don’t experience objects when the mind has withdrawn into the causal body during deep sleep.

      The scripture can’t seriously be suggesting that “enlightenment” is a state in which no thoughts obtain. If that is the case, then there is no such thing as permanent “enlightenment” or what the scripture calls moksha (i.e., liberation). All states are nothing more than subtle objects and thus are subject to the limitations of time and space. Hence, no state is everlasting (i.e., permanent) or eternal (i.e. altogether beyond the parameters of time and space).

      The implied meaning of the words of scripture is that the thoughts are known to be essentially nothing other than pure awareness. By analogy, you can look at look at the images flashing on the movie screen and marvel at their life-like quality, yet you never forget that they are nothing other than modifications of light.

      Additionally, when you (i.e., awareness associated with the mind of a jiva and thus experiencing itself as both the apparent entity and its apparent thoughts) realize that the thoughts arising “within” you are actually spontaneous vasana-inspired projections sprouting from the causal body, then you no longer identify those thoughts as your thoughts. Thus, you (i.e., the apparent individual person) are not thinking; your mind is not acting. Thinking is simply happening due to the fact that you (i.e., awareness) are illumining the subtle body, and as a result the mechanism of the subtle body, which is comprised of the components of the mind, intellect, ego, and memory, performs its functions of perceiving, thinking, emoting, and instigating action.

      Again, we find our mind mired in a paradox. For neither are you (i.e., pure awareness) acting nor are you (i.e., reflected awareness) acting. There is no entity acting at all. And yet acting seems to be taking place.

      Venkat: Further modern science is now suggesting that thoughts about choices / actions arise AFTER the decision to act has been made. So in that sense, thought really is redundant. And after all, what is thought apart from words and concepts that flow through the mind. Consequently thoughts may not be necessary to act without acting.
      Ted: Yes, the experiments of Benjamin Libet in particular demonstrated that the mind is already made up before the apparent individual makes it up, so to speak. This correlates exactly with what I mentioned concerning the source of thought being the causal body. It is actually more accurate to say we as apparent persons are being thought than to say we are thinking.

      Of course, the apparent individual is not doing anything. The entire mind-body-sense complex and the causal body as well are nothing more than inert matter. So the apparently sentient person is actually incapable of thinking or acting. Only when illumined by awareness is the three-bodied machine that constitutes the apparent individual person set into motion.

      Though no one is actually thinking or acting, acting is impelled by thoughts and thinking as an action is comprised of thought. We are not in control of our thoughts nor the choices concerning action those thoughts compel us to make, but that is not to say that thought itself ceases. The conscious choice concerning action may arise after the “decision” has already been made, but the thought that makes the choice conscious and sets into motion the process of action nevertheless arises. That is simply the way the mechanism of mind works. In Vedantic terms, we can say that the vasanas sprout in the mind as our desires and fears and compel us to act at their behest. Though the vasanas are actually the impetus of our thoughts and actions, it seems to the apparent individual as if he or she is thinking the thoughts and deciding to do the actions.

      In any case, whether before or after the fact, so to speak, thought is involved.

      The wise person simply knows two things concerning thought: 1) The “fabric” of thought is nothing other than pure awareness, and 2) he or she is generating the thoughts (i.e., the thoughts are not his or hers, but Isvara’s). Thus, the mind ceases to cognize objects, so to speak, for all apparent objects are known to be nothing other than awareness. And the mind ceases to harbor the idea that it is personally or independently cognizing or thinking, for it has registered the understanding that there is no doer doing anything, that doing (i.e. action) simply happens when awareness illumines the three bodies—which are nothing other than pure awareness itself and only appear to be separate due to the deluding power of maya, which awareness for some inexplicable reason wields on itself—despite the fact that awareness is actionless.

      Very weird. And yet that’s the way it is.

      Venkat: You also note:

      “This doesn’t mean that experience—including thinking—ends. It means that the jiva’s intellect knows that as pure awareness the jiva is free of all experience. Thereafter, as long as prarabdha karma remains, life for the jiva goes on. Awareness remains associated with the mind-body-sense complex, but no longer identifies with it.”

      To say that a non-existent jiva’s intellect knows it is pure awareness implies a separate entity that knows something. If a jiva is non-existent then so is its intellect. So what is there to know that it is pure awareness? If it is just a thought, then this thought is just conceptual words that are arising in awareness. Then to say that awareness identifies with the mind-body-sense complex is also bizarre. How can awareness identify with anything? It is just passive and attributeless; to identify with something means that there is a thought arising in awareness that says “I am that body-mind”. It is the absence of that thought-feeling through all the three states, that is liberation.

      Ted: Yes, what you say is true for the most part. Again, the jiva is not non-existent. If it did not exist, it could not be experienced. It is simply not real, for it is neither permanent nor does it have any independent substantiality. In other words, its existence depends entirely upon awareness. We can’t say the wave doesn’t exist, but we recognize that the wave is nothing other than the ocean and that, moreover, without the ocean there ceases to be any wave.

      Liberation is the unshakable conviction that I am not the mind-body-sense complex or, for that matter, anything perceivable, conceivable, or experienceable. No matter what apparitions appear within the scope of my being, none affect my essential identity in any way nor, for that matter, are any of these apparent entities actually anything other than me. Despite the fact that they seem to be.

      Venkat: So Vedanta says awareness just is. On that screen of awareness, thoughts arise that identify with one particular locus, which is the maya.

      Ted: Thoughts are insentient entities. They don’t identify with anything. Awareness identifies with thoughts through its association with a particular mind-body-sense complex when conditioned by its own inherent power of maya (i.e., ignorance). Maya itself is not a location, but the mind-body-sense complex, along with the entire manifest universe on both the gross and subtle levels, is the projection of maya.

      Venkat: Therefore liberation ensues when such erroneous thoughts of identification and separation fall away.

      Ted: Exactly. Just as you say, thought itself doesn’t end, but all identification with thought ends.

      Venkat: Finally I have to say that this infatuation with traditional teaching methodology of Vedanta as the only proved method of liberation and asserting that any other approach would require ‘a miracle’ sounds worryingly close to evangelical christianity saying that it is the only path to god.

      Ted: Yeah, I thought that comment might ruffle your feathers a bit. But fear not, my friend, traditional Vedanta is not the only means to liberation. In fact, many more have probably realized the self outside the tradition of Vedanta than within it. I actually made the comment more out of sympathy with what I thought was your burning desire for liberation. I spent almost two decades following a decidedly devotional path and several more years reading Ramana, Nisargadatta, Wei Wu Wei, both the Krishnamurti boys, and a host of Neo-Advaitans and grappling with vague and contradictory ideas concerning “enlightenment.” It wasn’t until I encountered traditional Vedanta that the same apparent contradictions that you bring up were finally laid to rest due to a logical and systematic unfoldment of the implied meaning of the words of scripture by a qualified teacher. I think if you read either or both of the two books I suggested in my follow-up reply, you will see the difference between the satsang approach as opposed to a systematic unfoldment of the teachings.

      The great thing about Vedanta is that it is a complete teaching. It doesn’t reveal the real at the expense of the apparent. It embraces both aspects of reality, yet at the same time shows their underlying singularity.

      I do apologize for the flippancy of my comment and the fanaticism that it may have implied. Vedanta is by no means evangelical. We are not here to convert you or get you to accept anything that you are not able to verify through the logical analysis of your own experience. It is simply difficult to “see” the truth when we are conditioned by ignorance as we all are. The teachings of traditional Vedanta are simply an option that you might want to check out since it is the oldest “enlightenment” tradition known to mankind and has a pretty solid track record of setting qualified seekers free. You are a sincere seeker and a mature adult, however, so you are able to decide what is valid and what is not.

      Best
      Venkat

      Best to you as well,

      Ted

  12. Dear Ted,

    Thanks for taking the time to respond point by point. I appreciate it.

    I have in fact read both books that you suggested, and all the other ‘boys’ you talked about. As well as Dayananda’s commentary on Bhagavad Gita (plus other versions with Sankara’s commentary), the major upanishads with Sankara’s commentary, Chinmayananda’s commentary on Astavakra Gita etc, etc, etc

    So totally agree that Vedanta is an absolutely elegant and beautiful articulation of non-duality. The jousting helps challenge and clarify my understanding, rather than fall into blind belief.

    All the best,

    Venkat

    • Hi, Venkat.

      Holy cow, you are well-read.

      Upon further contemplation, I felt I should add the following to my comments.

      And, by the way, the jousting is enjoyable. A little dharma combat is good for the mind, eh?

      Anyway, here are my added comments…

      The bottom line of this whole issue is that, as the Mandukya Upanishad clearly reveals, you are already thought-free by nature.

      You, pure awareness, are the fourth factor—not state, mind you, but factor, for all states are by definition experienceable objects and are thus impermanent—that is the constant presence throughout all states of experience. You are the “light” in which all states, objects, thoughts, emotions, sensations, ideas, beliefs, opinions, memories, fantasies, interactions, encounters, and events appear and are thus made known. You, however, remain entirely untouched by any and all experience. Though thoughts appear in you, to you, you are not the thoughts, but rather that which sees the thoughts. And, as is irrefutably established through drg drishya viveka (i.e., the discrimination between the seer and the seen), the seer can never be the seen.

      But please don’t take my word for this. You can verify the veracity of this assertion though an honest examination of your own experience. Consider all the thoughts, feelings, and sensations (i.e., all the experiences) you ever have or even right now are experiencing. Have any of them changed you in the least? Certainly, they have affected the apparent person referred to as Venkat. But have they actually had any impact on you, awareness? Are you not now the same awareness as you have ever been? Is the “light” in which all the apparent phenomena that Venkat has experienced any different now than it ever was? Think about it. We can cut down the forest, build a house on the land, decorate the house any way we wish, move the furniture about, hold parties, offer prayers, play music, burn incense, argue, laugh, cry, and make love within its walls, but is the space itself ever affected? Does the space itself ever change?

      If the mind is subtle enough, the reflection of its limitless, stainless nature will shine within it like the sky’s reflection in a still pond. You will recognize though the instrument of the mind that which is altogether beyond the scope of the mind, that in which the mind, replete with its innumerable thoughts, appears. To paraphrase Ramana Maharshi, through knowledge alone is the self attained.

      Of course, the very idea that “enlightenment” or liberation is an attainment is the crux of the issue presently under consideration. Pure awareness is non-objectifiable and thus entirely unavailable for experience. Hence, it is not some object, feeling, or state that can be attained or obtained. It is the “field” of being in which all objects, feelings, and states appear and upon which the existence of them all depends. Unless awareness is, no object or experience can be. Moreover, the absence of objects can only be known if awareness is there to know it (think of deep sleep). Thus, whether objects appear “within” it or not, pure awareness always is. Whether thoughts appear to you or not, you—thought-free awareness—always are.

      Actually, the idea that liberation is something that the jiva can achieve or attain is simply the ego’s attempt to co-opt “enlightenment” or liberation and claim it for itself. Ironically, what in truth should be the realization that one is not the person one takes oneself to be thus becomes just another accomplishment for which the person takes credit. This is the reason Vedanta says that liberation is not for the person, but from the person. The truth revealed by scripture and through self-inquiry is that you are not the apparent individual person, but rather pure limitless awareness. Once this understanding is fully assimilated, the presence of the apparent person and his or her apparent thoughts is no longer a problem. Consequent to one’s ability to discriminate between the real and the apparent—which, by the way, is the proper interpretation of the “neti, neti” teaching propounded in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad rather than the nihilistic denial of the existence of the apparent reality—one is freed from existential angst. Though pain and pleasure (i.e., experiences of apparent objective phenomena) persist, suffering ceases. This is what is meant by moksha.

      All the best,

      Ted

  13. Dear Ted

    You mentioned the ‘neti, neti’ of Brihadaranyaka, and I am tempted to write it out, it is so stunningly beautiful. “Through what should one know that owing to which all this is known . . .”

    I am afraid that our jousting has come to an end. With this last post of yours, you have summarised the essence of what I have taken away as well. I could not quibble with a single sentence therein. As you say liberation is from the person, and the challenge is not to be mistaken by an ego co-opting it as an achievement.

    However, just for fun . . .

    Astavakra Gita:

    14.1: He indeed has his recollections of worldly life extinguished – who becomes void-minded spontaneously, who thinks of sense-objects only by chance, and who is, as it were, awake though physically asleep.
    [Chinmayananda: The Man-of-Perfection is one who has gone beyond his vasanas and therefore he is described here as one who has extinguished all his worldly memories. This state of vasanaless-ness is a state of utter mental stillness . . . and is gained spontaneously without any conscious effort]

    17.9: There is no attachment or aversion for one in whom the ocean of the world has dried up. His gaze becomes vacant. His bodily actions are purposeless and his senses inoperative.

    V.S.Iyer:
    In advanced Vedanta, we use neti, neti, which is the negating of every thought or idea that can possibly arise. “Neti” means “don’t think”. It is not a new thought to be added. All thoughts are useless in truth. Find something uncontradictable in Absolute silence where ideas there are none.

    Sri Atmananda:
    If you know that Consciousness can never be made an object of thought, you will be thrown into a state where the mind expires, and you will be left in your real nature as in deep sleep. It is no samadhi at all, but far beyond.

    J Krishnamurti:
    The mind can be free only when it is completely still. Though it has problems, innumerable urges, conflicts, ambitions, if through self-knowledge, through watching itself without acceptance or condemnation, the mind is choicelessly aware of its own process, then out of that awareness there comes an astonishing silence. It is only then that the mind is free because it is no longer desiring anything; it is no longer seeking; it is no longer pursuing a goal, an ideal – which are all projections of a conditioned mind.

    Nisargadatta:
    Realisation is when this state of mind, this bliss, dissolves or disappears into a neutral state without quality or form (nirguna). This is realisation. This is a state of no-mind or no thought, where you permanently remain a zero, a nothingness.

    Finally Bhagavan Ramana:
    Abiding in that consciousness by which we know that we exist is absolute stillness. It is thoughtless awareness. It is consciousness without an object or a subject. It is the Awareness that’s prior to subject, prior to object. This is what is meant by self-abidance. This is what is meant by silence. This is stillness. In this stillness there is peace.

    All the best Ted.

    Venkat

  14. Ted,

    As a follow-up, I quoted Mandukyakarika 3.32 “For duality is not perceived when the mind ceases to act”.

    As a ‘traditional’ Vedantin, I thought you might be interested in Chinmayananda’s commentary on this verse (which I think is entirely consistent with the less ‘traditional’ sources I quoted in the previous post):
    “We have already seen that the goal of yoga is to reach the sublimation of the mind. The state of fulfilment of all spiritual sadhana is thus at the non-mindhood . . . when this dissipated mind and intellect equipment is once-for-ever shattered.”

    His commentary on the next verse is also instructive.
    “Why do we say that self-realisation is the state of non-mindhood? The reason is explained by Gaudapada. He says that the mind can exist and maintain its personality only if there are objects of perception . . . An empty mind is a ‘non-mind’ ; thus in that plane of consciousness, when awareness is perceiving nothing other than awareness, mind cannot exist.”

    Also, note 3.34:
    The behaviour of the mind that is under perfect control – which is free from all imaginations – and which is brought about with discrimination should be known. The condition of the mind in deep-sleep state is altogether of another sort and it is not like that (of a perfectly controlled mind).
    Chinmayananda’s comments:
    We have so far been told that the Supreme Consciousness is a state wherein the mind is not entertaining any object of perception from the outer world and that it is conscious only of itself. The only known experience of this type, to the deluded is the experience of deep sleep where there is no perception of the pluralistic world of the waking or the dream states . . . Suppression of mind is no process to raise it into the perfection of godhood. Mental elimination should come about as a result of intellectual conviction and discrimination.

    Interestingly Sw Paramarthananda on one of his talks on Brihadaranyaka Up, notes that deep sleep is the closest experience to describe turiya.

    Which brings us back to that Upanishad, 2.4.14, which is entirely consistent with Chinmayananda’s comments on Mandukyakarika:
    Because when there is duality as it were, then one smells something, one sees something, one hears something, one speaks something, one THINKS something, one KNOWS something. But when to the knower of Brahman, everything has become the Self, then what should one smell and through what, what should one see and through what, what should one hear and through what, what should one speak and through what, WHAT SHOULD ONE THINK AND THROUGH WHAT, WHAT SHOULD ONE KNOW AND THROUGH WHAT? Through what should one know That owing to which all this is known – through what O Maitreyi should one know the knower?

    From Sankara’s commentary:
    When ignorance has been destroyed by knowledge of Brahman, there is nothing but the Self. When to the knower of Brahman, everything such as name and form has been merged in the Self and has thus become the Self, then what object to be smelt should one smell, who should smell and through what instrument? Everywhere an action depends on certain factors; hence when these are absent the action cannot take place; and in the absence of an action there can be no result. . . . And when to the knower of Brahman who has discriminated the Real from the unreal, there remains only the subject, absolute and one without a second, through what instrument O Maitreya should one know that knower?

    It seems that in moksha, the separate ‘I’ has been eliminated; as such most of the chattering thoughts that jivas have fall away, because most are related to the I, in terms of desires, fears, worries about the past / future, like / dislike, etc. Thoughts arise to enable functioning in the world, but these are few and presumably impersonal. Hence Bhagavad Gita’s ‘inaction in action’, or the Taoist ‘wei wu wei’. And as we discussed previously science now seems to suggest that thought is subsequent to a choice being made, i.e. redundant anyway; hence functioning is possible without thought.

    As Nisargadatta said, “Once it is realised that it is only a total functioning of the manifest consciousness and there is no individual entity, there will be no question of liberation, of birth or death, or of a doer doing anything.”

    Best,

    Venkat

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