Overview of Western Philosophy – Part 18

Note that this is the Concluding part

(Read Part 17 of the series.)

Nowadays, there are still large numbers of people who, even if they do not entirely accept all of the claims made by their religion and no longer recognize it as an authority for their everyday behavior, nevertheless pay lip service. And sentiments such as ‘love thy neighbor as thyself’ do seem to contain great wisdom, finding a balance between the two extremes given above.

But with all of our values no longer ‘supplied’ by religion, people have been forced to develop them for themselves. In the absence of expert guidance, the principal influence now tends to be the media and we have such ridiculous situations as the cinema’s cult of the anti-hero. It is now normal for films to conclude with the thief in some luxurious setting surrounded by money and women and no sign whatsoever of justice or retribution. It is acceptable for the individual to triumph over the perceived constraints of society, including its laws. And it is far more usual for the governments, police and similar bodies to be portrayed as corrupt, with ‘hidden agendas’ and secret conspiracies against you and me. And we have been brainwashed into cynically believing this to be normal.  Continue reading

Q. 382 – Art and Vedanta

Q: As an artist and casual reader of advaita-vedanta, I wanted to ask about advaita-vedanta’s opinion on Art (be it music, painting, dance etc.).

Generally speaking, we can classify art into broadly 2 categories – sentimental art and non-sentimental art. But, as a practitioner of the former and a student of the latter (I had strict classical music training), I almost think of myself as being ‘attracted’ to art – as in, there is this sense of desire to create music. Personally, I have been advised by several elders to continue producing and practicing music. But does this go against the advice of advaita-vedanta? Am I acting on desires? Will art get artists permanently stuck in the cycle of samsara?

I ask this question because – There are so many Slokas, mantras, verses (sam-veda) that are musical… so it seems like music is encouraged by the vedas and the upanishads. But at the same time, it seems like a thing of desire. This confusion needs to be cleared!

Responses from Martin, Charles, Ted and Dennis Continue reading

Q. 374 – Ramesh

Here is a question and answer from several years ago, which addresses a topic that I avoided getting involved with publically at the time.

Q: I recently bought a book called “Final Truth” by Ramesh Balsekar. I read the book and now see it as one of the most “deep” and “philosophical” books on Advaita. But then I read Balsekar had some sex scandals and preached “do whatever you want you are not responsible” philosophy and I`m shocked. Anyway…

I saw an idea in the book and it resonated with me so much. In my opinion, It even explains (for some level) why there is Maya or why the appearances exists or why there is “creation” in the first place. (or Why there seems to be creation) The idea is this: The formless Consciousness can be experienced only through the multitude of sentient bodies with names and forms, just as light can be seen only through refracting agents. It is thus not that the multitude of names and forms exist independently of Consciousness but that Consciousness can express itself only through these forms.
 
So the other way of saying is the God or the Brahman or the Consciousness experiences himself through us. We and the universe are God looking into himself.
 
 Brihadarnyaka 2.5.19 has this verse
 
“He transformed Himself in accordance with each form; that form of His was for the sake of making Him known. The Lord on account of Maya (notions superimposed by ignorance) is perceived as manifold, for to Him are yoked ten organs, nay, hundreds of them. He is the organs; He is ten and thousands – many and infinite. That Brahman is without prior or posterior, without interior or exterior. This self, the perceiver of everything, is Brahman. This is the teaching.”
 
What do you think?  I  wanted to know if traditional Advaita accepts that idea or not.

A: As it seems with most questions I get these days, this one also revolves around the reality-appearance, paramArtha-vyavahAra question.

Who-you-really-are does not act, so cannot be ‘responsible’ in the sense that you mean here. The person, on the other hand, does act and is responsible, and gets puNya-papa as a result of those actions. It is especially the responsibility of the realized person to act in accordance with dharma – the awareness of right and wrong – since he is setting an example to others. However it is also possible that, because of insufficient prior mental preparation, an enlightened person is still attached to desires and fears. Even knowing that he is perfect and unlimited, he could still act in accordance with these feelings, which are called pratibandha-s (obstacles or impediments). These will go in time, with further nididhyAsana.

It has to be assumed that this was the position regarding Ramesh, as far as the ‘scandals’ are concerned. However, if it was the case that he was actually preaching “do whatever you want you are not responsible”, as you say, then this is not a clear presentation of the truth of the situation and should be condemned.

Regarding your second point about the ‘purpose’ for the seeming creation, this does not hold water either. There can be no meaningful attribution of purpose at all. Purpose implies some sort of deficiency in brahman, which is a contradiction. Experience of any sort is a limitation, so cannot be applied to brahman. Best just to think of everything as name and form, including the ignorance and the experience; the experienced and the experiencer. But, as an imaginative way of thinking about it, God looking into himself is fine, as long as you don’t take it literally.

Knowledge, Action and Liberation

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMost readers will be aware of the Brahmasutras – the third ‘leg’ of the prasthAna traya (the threefold set of scriptures that constitute the authority for Advaita – and some will even have read them! And you may also know that the first, famous sutra is athAto brahma jij~nAsA – Now, therefore, an enquiry into Brahman. It is the claim that Brahman forms the subject matter of Vedanta and has to be enquired into if we are to gain Self-knowledge.

The author of the Brahmasutras is said to be vyAsa, also known as bAdarAyaNa and the purport of the work is to summarize, in an extremely abbreviated form, the philosophy of vedAnta, showing how this naturally derives from the (last portion of) Vedas. (Of course, this does not mean a summary of Advaita. Others have written commentaries on the Brahmasutras and shown how it is commensurate with the philosophies of dvaita and vishiShTAdvaita.)

What fewer readers will know is that there is a similar (much longer) work, called the pUrva mImAMsA sUtra-s, written by the ‘father’ of pUrva mImAMsA philosophy, Jaimini. And, surely not coincidentally, the first sutra in this work is athAto dharma jij~nAsA – Now, therefore, an enquiry into dharma. This makes the claim that dharma forms the subject matter of the Vedas and has to be enquired into if we are to gain liberation from saMsAra. The word ‘dharma’ is often translated as ‘duty’ and the meaning of this word relates to what we ought to be doing with our lives. Their claim is that knowledge is useless, since it cannot produce any benefit. They utilize only the first part of the Vedas – the karma kANDa – believing that only actions can achieve anything and that, consequently, we must assiduously follow the injunctions, rituals and meditations prescribed there in order to attain liberation at some point in the future.

Continue reading

Topic of the Month – dharma

DSCN1402The topic for the month of January 2015 is –

dharma: righteousness; merit; religious duty; religion; law; a goal of life (puruShArtha); medium of motion (Jainism); scriptural texts (Buddhism); quality (Buddhism); cause (Buddhism); religious teaching (Buddhism); unsubstantial and soulless (Buddhism); (from the verb-root dhRRi = “to uphold, to establish, to support”)

  1. Literally it means “what holds together” and thus it is the basis of all order, whether social or moral. As an ethical or moral value, it is the instrumental value to liberation (except for the mImAMsaka who considers it the supreme value).
  2. varNa Ashrama-dharma is one’s specific duty.
  3. sanAtana-dharma is the eternal religion.
  4. sva-dharma is one’s own individual duty.
  5. According to the mImAMsA school, it is what is enjoined in the Veda. It is religious duty, the performance thereof bringing merit and its neglect bringing demerit.
  6. Generally dharma is twofold: sAdhAraNa-dharma, which is common to everyone, and varNa Ashrama –dharma, which is specific to each class and stage of life.

From: A Concise Dictionary of Indian Philosophy (New & Revised Edition) Sanskrit Terms Defined in English, John Grimes, Indica Books. ISBN: 8186569804
Buy from Amazon US, Buy from Amazon UK

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. Continue reading

Tat Pada Vicāra – 4. Īśvara – Dharma manifest

DharmaEverything that there is, is īśvara. That is why we can invoke mahāgaṇapati  in a small mound of turmeric and even worship a milestone as īśvara. For us, trees, rivers, mountains, pillars, vāyu, ākāśa, bird, insect, snake, anything and everything is īśvara.

Though there are many Hindu’s who might not understand the philosophy, ask even a supposedly illiterate villager as to where God is, and prompt will come his reply “God is everywhere”. It is only the Hindu religion where all its practices have arisen from its underlying philosophy.

There are a number of philosophies, both in the past and the present, from the west, such as those of Aristotle, Socrates, Satre, Descarte etc. which are not religions; there are religions such as the Abrahamic, actively practised and proselytized, which do not have any meaningful philosophy behind them. That we are able to worship īśvara in every form, conceivable and inconceivable, is an example of applied philosophy practiced as religion.

We do not worship idols. We worship īśvara who is form manifest. We are not mere form worshippers. We worship the formless, on whom all the forms are superimposed. How can anyone worship the formless? The formless is to be understood as the truth and the substratum. The forms are the one that can be worshipped.

There are theologies that say there is one God. The problem with this thinking is which or whose “One God” is the true God. Everyone lays claims to their own God as the real, ultimate, and final one. It is this issue that has been plaguing the world. It is in the name of this issue that millions were persecuted in the past, and massacres are being committed currently.

We do not subscribe to this view of one God. We say there is ONLY God. All that there is, is only God; because he is the upādāna kāraṇa of this entire jagat.  kāryaṁ sakartṛkaṁ kāryatvāt ghaṭavat. Therefore, all that is experienced is God indeed; even the experiencer is God, for there is nothing other than God.

This jagat, which is īśvara sṛṣṭi, so purposefully and well created, functions in an orderly manner. There are a number of orders that govern the functioning of the world. Let is look at some orders in order to understand yet another dimension of īśvara.

  • The Physical Order – There is an order that exists in nature in the form of physical laws; for example, the intrinsic nature of fire is heat and light – and fire burns anything that comes in contact with it, irrespective. We say fire burns, but think about it, is it fire that burns? The Law of Gravity works, irrespective of who or what falls. The sunrise, the seasons, the rains, its failure, everything works within īṣvara’s order.
  • The Physiological Order – whatever we eat is digested and absorbed by the digestive system, taken to various parts of the body by the circulatory system, the waste thrown out by the excretory system, food converted into reproductive power by the reproductive system, and requisite oxygen continously supplied by the respiratory system.
  • The Emotional Order – emotions such as anger are within the emotional order of īśvara. Anger is a reaction and not an action – no one can consciously become or remain angry – if you don’t believe me, try and be angry for the next 30 secs – you will find yourself smiling rather than angry. Even desire is within the order of īśvara. These reactions cannot be controlled, but they can be managed – we shall see the monumental implications of these truths later in the series.
  • The Social Order – ahimsā – non-injury – our scriptures say ahimsā paramo dharmaḥ – non-injury is the foremost of all dharmas – everyother dharma arises from this basic dharma – no one wants to be hurt including animals; but it is only humans that do not want to hurt others, atleast that is the expectation from them. varṇāśramadharma, as prescribed by the scriptures, is an excellent system that takes competition out of the equation, thereby making everyone a contributor rather than a competitor.

īśvara is the very order manifest in the jagat. In the light of this vision, everyone in the world, everything that happens, all stand validated. There is no one to blame, there is nothing to feel guilty about.

I would like to draw the attention of the readers to a very important difference between our vision and other religions. While the others consider dharma as the mandate of īśvara, we consider dharma as the very īśvara manifest. dharma as God’s mandate, is open to (mis)interpretation. dharma as God manifest, is to be understood and abidbed by. This means we are always within īśvara. If it has happened, it is within īśvaras order, irrespective of whether we consider what happened as just or not.

Q. 352 – sexual desire and happiness

Q: I have read the book ‘How to Meet Yourself’. I understand I think about desire; that it is a searching for a return to our natural state of happiness. I understand that we are already that, but when around women or just bored I start moving toward pornography to get relief from the desire. How exactly can I just access this happiness? Do I not take the desire seriously and not look at women, or do I need a more practical way to cope and not go down this spiritual route so to speak?

Answers are provided by: Ramesam, Sitara, Ted, Martin and Dennis. Continue reading

Advaita for Mothers (Q. 323)

We are honored to have input from Swamini Atmaprakashananda, a direct disciple of Pujya Swami Dayananda  for this week’s question!

Q: My question is, as a mother is it ever possible to not be very attached to my child, and be a mother only by Dharma and karma, and ease from the clutches of Moha for my child. How do I do that? I would greatly appreciate if anything here can help me because I truly am looking for it, and struggling with the issue for a long time.

A (Sitara): Advaita does not really make a distinction between different kinds of attachment. While it is true that the bond between a mother and her child is especially strong, it still needs to be dealt with like all other kinds of attachment.

 So how to deal with it?

 First of all: Trying to overcome attachment by dealing with it directly will only work to a limited degree. So I recommend to deal with it both ways, as described below. Continue reading

Seeking – giving up pleasures? (Q. 322)

Q: I can see I need to live more austerely, and I am prepared to sacrifice much to bring about a more lucid and disciplined spiritual practice, but if I am honest, sacrificing those pleasures will have their cost and I will miss them. I would give up nearly anything to find a way forward, but I have heard that unless giving up pleasures is seen as so necessary it isn’t actually a sacrifice, it won’t produce any progress, making it pointless. I am confused. Living austerely definitely means sacrifice, and I could do it, but what’s the point in doing it if it won’t work? I hope I have been clear. If you could tell me what you think, I would be most grateful.

A (Sitara): Your emphasis on austerities and sacrifice indicates that you are influenced by a tradition other than Advaita Vedanta. While following dharma (an ethical lifestyle) has its place in Advaita Vedanta, it does not require austerities. It just means “be fair”, i.e. treat others the way you yourself would like to be treated. Also following a spiritual practice of meditation and prayer is thought of as beneficial for the seeker; but there is no need for much sacrifice here either, except for remaining with it even if sometimes inconvenient – having to get up a little earlier for example. Continue reading