Q. 426 Flow

Q: In response to my question “Can one ever KNOW that reality is non-dual?”, Ramesam wrote: “Yes, when you are in ‘zone’, (the flow of Mihály Csíkszentmihályi).”

I’m a big fan of flow, know it quite well, teach it in fact to my students. I’d like to know what your take is on flow, specifically: Do you agree with Ramesam, that being in flow is knowing that reality is non-dual?

– Is being in flow a desirable ‘state’ according to Advaita Vedanta? In other words, if, as often happens, I spend most of the day in flow, is this a ‘good thing’ for my Advaitin development?

The reason I ask is because I’ve wondered a bunch about the difference between pure awareness and flow. Flow is very goal oriented; pure awareness is not. Also, when in flow, you are deeply aware of that which you need to be aware of to keep flowing (holding a conversation, skiing a narrow downhill trail, etc.), but you are typically NOT aware of your awareness. In fact, if you become aware of your awareness, you’ll probably lose the flow, get tripped up in the conversation, fall down on the trail, etc. It’s as if you were completely lost in the activity.

So, is flow a less desirable state than pure awareness? Or some other state that Advaita recommends?

A: I came across Csíkszentmihályi when I was writing ‘How to Meet Yourself’ and of course the feeling of ‘flow’ is recognizable. And it is a great feeling, obviously invaluable for sports and other activities. It represents single-mindedness, concentration etc – the control of the mind and senses – dama, shama etc. And it is in this sense that it has some relevance for Advaita – mental preparation to make one ‘ready’ for taking on board self-knowledge.

But that is as far as it goes. It has nothing to do with actually knowing that reality is non-dual. In fact, I would suggest that the vast majority of people who know about ‘flow’ have no interest (and have probably never heard of) non-duality. They are interested in its value in furthering their materialistic ends (by this, I don’t mean obtaining objects but improving their sporting achievements or whatever). If one also has spiritual ‘ambitions’, then pursuing flow could even be counter-productive. It is said that mokSha has to become your sole, overriding aim in life to the exclusion of everything else if you are to succeed in this life.

So your assessment is correct, except that you do not really become ‘aware of awareness’. The non-directed stillness of the mind in deep meditation is the nearest you come to such a thing. nirvikalpa samAdhi has nothing as its object whereas, as you say, flow is invariably goal-oriented.

Finally, Ramesam said that it was possible to know that reality is non-dual when you are in the zone, not that being ‘in flow’ is knowing it.

Q. 425 Truth and reality

Q: As I see/feel it, Truth (with a capital T) is a human concept, and like all concepts, is not real (except in our minds). “What is” is simply “what is” … period, end of story (literally).

Advaita Vedanta seems to say that Truth (Brahman) is real, that it is in fact the only reality.

  1. Are the two assertions above incompatible? (I have the feeling that, ultimately, they’re not, because the Truth I’m talking about is a concept and Brahman is not.)
  2. If they are, is my take that ‘Truth is a human concept and therefore not real’ a deep obstacle (perhaps even a show-stopper) to my studying Advaita?

A: It is not possible to talk about brahman/reality because it is non-dual and without attributes (see Q. 328). You need to accept/appreciate this. But of course, as part of the process of removing self-ignorance from the mind, we do need to ‘as if’ talk about it. And we do this via pointers, negation and so on. All of these are concepts and have to be dropped IN THE END. But, in the interim, we make use of them without worrying about the fact that they are mithyA.

The other point is that words are very slippery things and different people can understand different things. The word ‘sat’ can certainly mean both ‘reality’ and ‘truth’ (as well as ‘existence’). Whether or not you regard these as synonyms may cause you a problem of the sort you describe. But the word ‘reality’ is as much a concept as the word ‘truth’! These are the sort of things that twentieth century Western philosophers argued about. Don’t worry about it! Gain Self-knowledge and you can then happily drop all the concepts, or simply use them as appropriate when you want to talk to someone who doesn’t have Self-knowledge!

Tattvabodha – Part 30

Part 30 of the commentary by Dr. VIshnu Bapat on Shankara’s Tattvabodha.This is a key work which introduces all of the key concepts of Advaita in a systematic manner.

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

Part 30 provides a short summary of the entire work.

There is a hyperlinked Contents List, which is updated as each new part is published.

Tattvabodha – Part 29

Part 29 of the commentary by Dr. VIshnu Bapat on Shankara’s Tattvabodha.This is a key work which introduces all of the key concepts of Advaita in a systematic manner.

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

Part 29 explains what happens to the j~nAnI and his accumualted karma on enlightenment.

There is a hyperlinked Contents List, which is updated as each new part is published.

Q. 417 – Value of practices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Chinmaya Mission, Sw. Dayananda, and scholarly disquisitions

Excerpted (with apologies) from:


“I have a message to the West as Buddha had a message to the East” – Vivekananda.

“Once more the world must be conquered by India. This is the dream of my life, and I wish that each one of you who hear me today will have the same dream in your minds, and stop not until you have realised the dream.”

Ramakrishna Mission never transcended ethnicity in any absolute sense; instead, its distinctive teachings and structure brought it into complex negotiations with the various cultures it encountered, in India and in the West… Śaṅkara the Missionary. Continue reading

On Narada Bhakti Sutras – 15

On Narada Bhakti Sutras  – 15

Part – 14  


Narada happened to go to Indra’s court at a time when the celestial damsels Rambha and others were giving a dance performance.  After a while Indra enquired from Narada as to whose performance was like best by him. Narada responded by saying that the performance of that girl who danced with passion, emotion and agility was the best. The dancers were debating within themselves as to who did better, when Indra intervened and requested Narada to declare the winner. Narada announced that that girl who could excite the Sage Durwasa would top them all. A damsel by name Vapuvu accepted the challenge.


The sons of Daksha were about to commence creation. Narada met them at that time and directed them to work for liberation instead of getting stuck with the cycles of birth and death. He successfully dissuaded them from creation.  Coming to know of the role played by Narada, Daksha complained to Brahma. Daksha then cast three spells on Narada – that Narada would take birth in the womb of Daksha’s daughter, he would be a wanderer without a stable place of stay and he would not have a wife. Continue reading

On Narada Bhakti Sutras – 14

Part – 13  


The Musician Kaushika was singing melodious tunes in the Heaven. Goddess Lakshmi along with her cohorts, several Sages, Narada, Tumbura and several others visited the Heaven at that time. Goddess Lakshmi requested Tumbura to sing along with Kaushiki. After the duo performed, she honored them and bestowed gifts to them. Narada felt slighted by her action. He cursed her to  be born to wicked people and be punished by them.

Lord Vishnu then cajoled Narada and told him that Tumbura achieved special accomplishment because of his devotional singing. Vishnu asked Narada that he should go to the Manasottara Mountain range and learn singing from a bird living there if he desired similar abilities. He went to Manasottara Mountain and learnt the singing under tutorship of the bird. When he returned and met Tumbura, he discovered he was no match and felt very jealous of Tumbura. So he went back to Vishnu. Vishnu promised to teach singing to Narada when Vishnu takes birth as Krishna.

Narada approached Krishna and requested him to teach him singing. Krishna directed him to learn the singing for a year from Jambavati. After that Krishan directed him to go to each of his wives for a year and learn singing. Even then he could not master singing. Finally he was taught by Krishna. He became very skilled in singing, he became free of his jealousies and lived happily.


It was a time when Narada was observing askesis on the Himalayan Mountains. In order to disturb his austerities, Indra sent a few celestial damsels to distract him.  But Narada was a great devotee of Shiva. Because of the power of that devotion to Shiva, his mind was very stable and did not get lured by the damsels. Narada felt proud of his own achievement. He thought that it was because of his prowess that his mind did not waver and he did not fall for those girls’ wiles. After completing his austerities and meditation, he went to Shiva, Brahma and Vishnu. Even though Vishnu that it was due to Shiva’s power, Narada was boastful of his ability to control his mind in not being beguiled by the celestial damsels. Vishnu decided to teach him lesson.  Narada took leave of Vishnu and proceeded on his onward journey.  Vishnu created a city at a place on Narada’s route. He also generated an attractive palatial building in the city. A voluptuous and beautiful woman by name Shrimati was also created and placed in that palace. Narada fell for her charm. He wanted to win her hand. So he went back to Vishnu and requested him to bestow the Vishnu’s looks on him.

Narada and Parvata were on a tour of the world. They reached the city where Ambarisha lived. Ambarisha received them with befitting honors. They saw the melodiously singing Shrimati at his house. They enquired about the girl. Ambarisha told them that she was his daughter. Both of them requested him to give that girl in marriage to them. As it was not possible for both of them to marry her, he agreed to give her to one of them whom she chose.  A date was fixed for Shrimati to meet both and select one of them.  Narada and Parvata met Vishnu separately without the knowledge of one another and each of them prayed to Vishnu to convert the other’s face to look like that of a monkey. Lord Vishnu fulfilled the desire of both of them. Both of them came to attend the function where Shrimati would express her choice.  Vishnu also went to witness the goings on. Everyone laughed looking at the mokey-like faces of Narada and Parvata. Shrimati chose Vishnu as her husband because of his comely features. Vishnu took her along with him.

Narada and Parvata were outraged. They cursed Ambarisha that he would become a womanizer as he failed to stick to his word of marrying Shrimati to one of them.  But Vishnu’s weapon chased them both and they had to run away.  They went to the Heaven and they saw Shrimati at Vishnu’s place. They cast a spell on Vishnu accusing him for having deceived them by making their faces look like monkeys and winning the girl of their love.  They said that Vishnu would be born as a human being, would suffer separation from his wife and would be able to join back with her with the help of monkeys. Vishnu revealed that everything happened the way it did because of the power of Shiva. Because of that curse, Vishnu eventually took birth as Rama, got separated from his wife, and could get back his wife with the help of monkeys.

(To continue …. Part – 15).