Q.436 Ishvara and the existence of fossils

Q: Dinosaur fossils point to a world history that greatly exceeds the history of human beings. I realize that from the Absolute perspective, there is no creation, no world, and therefore no fossils. However, I also realize that Advaita is not equivalent to solipsism. When ‘I’ die, the relative world will still continue in ‘my’ absence. What is puzzling is why there should be any such consistency. When I go to sleep tonight, I do not expect to pick up the dream from where I left off last night. Yet on waking, I definitely expect to be in the same room I went to bed in, with the same clothes hanging in the closet, etc. In short, there is a direct continuity that occurs in jAgrat that does not apply to svapna. Doesn’t this very continuity (e.g. fossils having existed for millions of years before ‘I’ was born) point to a definite need for a Creator, aka Ishvara or saguNa Brahman? Otherwise, I don’t see how the continuity would make any sense. ‘I’ as the jIva cannot have had anything to do with it!

A: Ishvara is just as real as the world. Ishvara is the order that we see, the laws that govern it and so on. All this is empirically real, not absolutely real; it is mithyA. You and I and Ishvara and the world and jAgrat and svapna and suShupti are all mithyA. So yes, if you are talking about fossils and dinosaurs, Ishvara is needed as the creator of the world and of the laws of evolution etc. that enable such things to be a part of our history. Ishvara maintains the waking dream so that I have some clothes to put on when I wake up.

States of Consciousness – 2, 3, 4 and 1/2?

Okay, here is your starter for 10 – your time starts now! (If you’re not familiar with this phrase, it relates to the quiz show ‘University challenge’, which was on British television for many years.)

The question is: how many states of consciousness are there?

I can almost see your mind tripping up and reading that question again. Surely, you will say, there are three states of consciousness – waking, dreaming and deep sleep. What can I possibly mean by querying this? Well, actually, depending upon how you answer this question, the number of states of consciousness could be two, three or five (or 4 ½) or you could argue that the very question is misconceived!

It is true that most of the scriptures refer to 3 states. If you have read my book ‘A-U-M: Awakening to Reality’, you will know that it refers to jAgrat, svapna and suShupti. These three states are mithyA and the reality underlying them is called turIya. In the tattva bodha (attributed to Shankara), the question is asked: avasthAtrayaM kim? – What are the three states? Admittedly, this is a somewhat leading question but the answer is given: jAgratsvapnasuShuptyavasthAH – they are the waking, dream and deep sleep states. And it goes on to explain each in turn. Continue reading

Q. 421 – Creation and lIlA

Q: I ‘understand’ that Brahman is Eternal, Changeless, Being, Its the mAyA aspect that is puzzling. Why create an illusion and then ignore it thru dispassion, observation, witnessing, spiritual practice, etc… the very thing you (Brahman) made for your play of a world/dream you now must awaken from. I have often pondered that Brahman did not make/create the world but the mind/Self did thru a type of mis-creation a false identification. Does this make any sense?

A: The ‘final’ message of Advaita is that there is ONLY brahman (i.e. really, really ‘non-dual’). Ideas such as mAyA are part of the interim teaching to help lead the mind to that final realization. Eventually, they have to be dropped. brahman did not create anything – there is no world as a separately existing entity – it is all only brahman. So yes, as you say, the apparent separation is effectively generated by the mind as a ‘false identification’. Read the adhyAsa series that I posted – http://www.advaita-vision.org/adhyasa-part-1/ – or better still read my book ‘A-U-M: Awakening to Reality’, which is all about this ‘final message’.

Q. 416 – More on evil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q.407 Why not commit suicide?

Q: Since the world as perceived by our senses is mithyA, and we are Brahman, any suffering or pleasures that we derive during the ‘vishva’ or ‘taijasa’ state are mere illusions. As this realization dawns, I am forced to conclude  that living or dying (both concepts being associated with the vishva state) are meaningless.

Rather than meditating etc, and deciding to live life as it is with the knowledge that it is mithya, why shouldn’t someone just end his existence in this state? He is Brahman anyway and it doesn’t matter if he lives or dies in an illusory world borne out of his senses.
Rest assured, this is more of a rhetorical question, to understand if any of the proponents of vedanta have addressed this.

The very act of my writing to you is in itself irrelevant in the broader context.

A: This is the sort of question that Ramana or Nisargadatta would answer with the question ‘Who is asking?’

The point is that the world and its vicissitudes are real for the jIva. Hence the teachings about karma and rebirth. If the jIva ends his/her life before gaining Self-knowledge, there will be rebirth according to the accumulated karma. Also the pleasures and sufferings during waking and dreaming are not illusions; they are mithyA – a world of difference! It is only from the vantage point of absolute reality that you can say that living and dying are meaningless. The unenlightened do not commit suicide as a result of believing that their lives and the world are real. The enlightened do not kill themselves even though they know that their life as a jIva is not real. Indeed, they KNOW that their true self cannot be killed!

avastha-s and prakriyA-s

One may be motivated to find out the Ultimate Truth by reasons of either epistemological curiosity or soteriological aspiration. If it is the latter, s/he would obviously go by the guru vAkya or shruti vAkya (instruction of a teacher or a canonical text). From an epistemological perspective, however, our ancient Seers and Sages used essentially two approaches in imparting whatever they found to be the supreme unquestionable “really real” ultimate ‘Thing’ for which they did not even give a name. They referred to It simply as “That” but declared It to be ‘ekameva advitIyaM‘(one only without a second). Thus did the a-dvaita (not-two) philosophy was born and ‘brahman ‘ became an indicator word for That, whatever ‘That’ is or, inexplicably, is not. Continue reading

Reality of the world

The discussion that follows stems from a comment I made on a recent article in the July NOW Newsletter. This is produced by a group in Australia led by Alan Mann and is a resource for the works of Thomas Traherne, as well as Douglas Harding, John Wren-Lewis and George Schloss.

I publish our email exchanges verbatim, as they occurred, below. Please feel free to add any useful comments!

  1. ***************************************

Hi Alan,

Regarding your preferred definition of ‘real’ (“The definition of real which I prefer is: actually existing as a thing or occurring in fact; not imagined or supposed.”):

Does a chair exist? As a chair? What if I remove the legs and back; is it still a chair? Was it a chair a year ago, 10, 100, 1000 years ago? What about similar periods in the future? I suggest that it is not the chair that exists at all, it is the wood out of which it is made. (And the same argument applies to the wood over longer timescales.) A ‘chair’ is not real; it is only name and form of wood. Etc. ‘Things’ are not real; no ‘thing’ exists in its own right; it is dependent upon something more fundamental for its existence. And this goes on, all the way back to Consciousness.

Have you read the story I wrote about this? – the ‘first definition’ at http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/definitions/advaita.htm. You can publish this in your next edition if you like.

Best wishes,
Dennis Continue reading


The ‘Real I’ verses the ‘Presumed I’ – An Examination of chidAbhAsa

Ramana Maharshi’s instruction to seekers to ask themselves ‘Who am I?’ is lauded by many modern Western teachers as sufficient, on its own, to lead to enlightenment.  I suggest that this is not strictly true; that what it can do is rather to give us insight into what we are not and thereby point us in the direction of traditional teachings to learn about our real nature. It is inciting us to conduct Self-inquiry in the proven manner, i.e. by listening to a qualified teacher interpret the scriptures, rather than merely providing a mantra or formula to provide an answer directly.
An explanation of how traditional teaching can lead us to an understanding of who I am might begin with an analysis of our three states of consciousness – this is the so-called avasthA traya prakriyA of traditional advaita.
We almost certainly begin with the belief that who-I-really-am is only fully present in the waking state. In the dream state, I am not in command of my mental faculties so that the mind free-wheels outside of my control even though I am not actually unconscious. And we no doubt accept the deep sleep state as one in which mind and body rest and recuperate in order to be ready for the trials that the next day may bring. According to this interpretation, consciousness in deep sleep is in a resting state, as indicated by the lowered activity shown by EEG displays. (This view, also supported by many Western philosophers, claims that consciousness is a by-product or ‘epiphenomenon’ of the brain; an evolutionary advantageous development to enable an animal to find food and mate more efficiently than before. This is also the view of the chArvAka-s or materialists of thousands of years ago – it is certainly not new!) Continue reading

Tattvabodha – Part 12


Part 12 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 12 examines the waking and dream states of experience.

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

The ego, the ‘soul’ and metaphysics – 6th and final part

It was made clear at the beginning of this essay that what we mean by the “ego” (the “personality”), it being no more than a delusion, a false image or projection, cannot be a subject, except in a dream -and is itself a “dream”. We described the fight of the “ego” in its efforts at reaffirmation as an “unholy war”. That it is obviously the soul, the person, who is the subject of the delusion, the “dream” ; his/her’s the “holy war”, the suffering and the required effort towards reawakening (is not life itself a dream? –it is so for “fallen man”). The soul’s, the person’s destiny – and this is conditional according to the monotheistic religions – is to finally be “reabsorbed”, united or reintegrated , and thus liberated. Liberated not from itself (its Self!) by itself , not even from life, but from a false image of itself and of life (“the world”) due to ignorance (avidya).

It is thus through ignorance, passion and attachment, that individual man (non-gender term) has “become” an “ego”, a “dreamer”, until, or unless, he wakes up. Existence itself is a ‘becoming’, not ‘being’, according to Plato and all traditional thinking. This subject is otherwise inexhaustible, and here we may remember the saying of Râbi’a quoted at the beginning, as well as the utterances of so many other sages and mystics. Continue reading