Understanding Reality

Understanding Reality
in the Vision of Advaita Vedānta

by Wolfgang P., wpl@gmx.net

We, as human beings, are interested in reality. Unlike animals, we are able to ask questions about the nature of our experience. We understand that experiences are numerous and fleeting, so the question arises: What is the reality behind those experiences? From this question subsequent ones emerge: What does it mean to say something is ‘real’ or ‘unreal’? What is the nature of reality? Vedānta is a body of knowledge to analyze the nature of reality and its relationship to the individual (jīva). It applies a teaching methodology that has been handed down from teacher to student since time immemorial. The aim of Vedānta is to make one understand its fundamental tenet:1

ब्रह्म सत्यं जगत् मिथ्या जीवो ब्रह्मैव नापरः

brahma satyaṃ jagat mithyā jīvo brahmaiva nāparaḥ

Brahman is the only truth (satyam), the world, jagat, is unreal (mithyā), and there is ultimately no difference between brahman and the individual self (jīva).

In this article I will explain the three categories Vedānta provides to understand reality: sat or satyam, asat, and mithyā.2 When we talk about reality, we need to distinguish that-which-is-real from that-which-is-not-real. This discriminative inquiry is called tattva-viveka. In Sanskrit, that-which-is-real is called satyam, whereas that-which-is-not-real is called asat. Continue reading

Consciousness and neuro-science

Discussion from Quora

(Different from above) Prof. Donald Hoffman – The Case Against Reality .

A professor of cognitive science argues that the world is nothing like the one we experience through our senses.

Evolution has shaped us with perceptions that allow us to survive. They guide adaptive behaviors. But part of that involves hiding from us the stuff we don’t need to know. And that’s pretty much all of reality, whatever reality might be.

Snakes and trains, like the particles of physics, have no objective, observer-independent features

Gefter: I suspect they’re reacting to things like Roger Penrose and Stuart Hameroff’s model, where you still have a physical brain, it’s still sitting in space, but supposedly it’s performing some quantum feat. In contrast, you’re saying, “Look, quantum mechanics is telling us that we have to question the very notions of ‘physical things’ sitting in ‘space.’” Continue reading

Language and Teaching

I think we have probably had enough discussion on the ‘Experience versus Knowledge’ question. I cannot imagine many visitors wanting to read through 50+ comments on the topic! So here is an article that I have just had published in the Newsletter of Ramana Maharshi Foundation UK. It is on a subject closely related to the above question and indeed was touched upon in some of the comments…

Language and Teaching

Language is something we tend to take very much for granted. When someone says something to us, and providing we recognize the words, we think that we understand what it is that the speaker intends to communicate. And we respond appropriately. This is often not verbal – when it is, there is a subsequent opportunity to resolve any misunderstanding. Our response is usually to form an immediate mental opinion or judgement upon what has been said. And this is probably not merely a spoken or unspoken comment upon the particular topic expressed but also upon the person who made the statement. This all happens instantaneously and automatically. Thus it is that it can actually be worse for our comprehension if we already know something about the topic to begin with than if we are completely ignorant. What we take in will be significantly coloured by what we believe to be our prior knowledge (which may actually be ignorance). Continue reading

‘ego’, self, and metaphysics – Part lV

In the Buddhist perspective, the ego or self as ordinarily considered in Western traditions (i.e., as soul or person), is a non-self, actually a non-entity (anatta). Hence the suffering, which stems from an experience -ultimately illusory- of separation and vulnerability.

Here we have to consider two things. First, according to Mahayana Buddhism, Adi-Buddha, equivalent to Dharmakaya – the highest metaphysical, or divine, level – represents that unique Being or Divine ‘State’, pervading all manifestation as Buddha-nature; and second, the notion of the Self (Atman, derived from the Hindu Vedanta) is not only compatible with that view, but also with that of the Spirit in Christianity and in Islam.

As to the soul (metaphysics and theology), though intrinsically perfect or whole in itself (one could add: in ‘primordial man’ –the purusha or Hiranyagarbha of Hinduism)- it experiences imperfection, self-limitation, anxiety and doubt in its state of (aparent) separation -the ‘fallen state’. Being, not just potentially, a ‘focal point of the Universe’, yet it becomes, through ignorance and self-will, the subject of illusions, attachments, and passions which lead to that predicament. Its condition is thus ambivalent; it can orient itself upwards (or towards the centre) – to ‘holiness’ and integration – or downwards, pulled by its ‘lower nature’ (nafs in its lower stages, according to Sufism). The end result will be either self-denial, or self-assertion; self-giving, or ego-centeredness. Inevitably, this latter tendency, based on ignorance, can only lead to an unwanted result: dispersal, disintegration, and suffering. Alas!, on the whole, if not in principle, psychiatry is not interested in this distinction or dichotomy; but let not anything else be said about this at this point.

From the viewpoint of advaita vedanta, all of what is described in this paragraph – and what follows – pertains to the empirical, relative (ontological and epistemological) level: mithya (or vyavahara), in other words. Continue reading

Consciousness/Awareness, the brain, and memories

(Q&A published recently in QUORA)

Q. ‘Why wasn’t my consciousness generated by another brain? Why am I linked with this brain?’

I heard that everybody experiences consciousness, but then why am I my consciousness and not another person’s consciousness? It’s hard to explain.

Paul Bush. Yes, it’s hard to explain. Basically it’s because the most important part of consciousness, which is awareness*, is the same for everybody. There is only one awareness, and in fact nothing else. All the other aspects of consciousness, the contents, are projections of awareness as it identifies with small parts of reality such as bodies and minds. Such misidentification creates a perspective. From each perspective the part of reality not identified with is seen as the external world. The observer with a particular perspective and the world observed as a consequence of that perspective are both inferences created at the moment of identification.

So, there is only one awareness that is continually pulled into the illusion of being this or that observer. The ongoing personal identity that we think of as ourselves maintains coherence through the construction of the concepts of time and space; memory and an apparent (though not total) physical separation from the rest of reality. Awareness has no personal identity, it is exactly the same for you and everyone else, because it is singular awareness that creates each experience depending on the perspective of the entity that it is identifying with.

*(AM Awareness and Consciousness are generally taken as equivalent in Advaita Vedanta – no distinction being made) Continue reading

Ignorance is Also Brahman

Rama:  Maharishi Vasishta!  Revered Teacher!  Kundadanta whom I met  on that day is here in this assembly.  He has been listening to your instructions for all these days.  That is why I have asked you if he has attained Self-Knowledge and if all his doubts have been clarified.

Sage Vasishta:  Where is the need for me to say anything?  Let us ask him directly.

(Addressing now Kundadanta):  What do you say, Kundadanta?  Could you understand the essence of Truth? Have you gained Self-Knowledge?  Have your doubts been cleared? 

Kundadanta:  Oh, Greatest of the Sages!  Maharishi!  My Salutations.  Yes, now I am totally free of doubt.  I have learnt what all has to be learnt.  I understood fully the nature of Consciousness.  I realize that even a tiny mustard seed can contain infinite universes within it.  I could also understand experientially that there are no worlds at all from an Absolute point of view.  I can see clearly that a question on how a large earth can fit into a small room has no locus.

What every creature experiences in the world is only The Supreme Brahman.  The ignorance they experience is also Brahman.  There is nothing whatsoever anywhere anytime beyond Supreme Brahman.  That is the last word!

Vasishta:  He is a Great Man Indeed!  Congratulations to you, Kundadanta!   Continue reading

Q. 372 – Superimposition and Memory

Q: What is the relationship between memory and superimposition (adhyAsa)? In the metaphor of rope and snake, we say that we fail to see the snake clearly, because of inadequate light – there is partial knowledge and partial ignorance. When we superimpose a snake on the rope, we are drawing on fear and memory. We must have seen a snake (or image of one in a film or book) before in order to be able to mistake the rope for one. Similarly, we mistake brahman for the body and the world etc.

 But what about a baby or someone who has no memory as a result of brain damage? Is there still superimposition in this case?

Responses from Ted, Venkat, Ramesam, Martin, Sitara and Dennis

A (Ted): We have to bear in mind that the example of a rope being mistaken for a snake is an analogy, and as is the case with any analogy, the example is imperfect. In the example, the snake image is based on a previous experience of the mistaken perceiver.

 In terms of mistaking the body-mind-sense complex as well as the innumerable other objects that constitute the manifest universe for Brahman, however, we are dealing with something a little bit different. Whereas in order to mistake the rope for a snake, one must have previously seen a snake, the projection of the apparent reality (i.e., the manifest universe in both its subtle and gross aspects) is not based on experiential memory, but rather results from the mind’s ability to recognize the “cosmic blueprints” that abide in dormant form in the Macrocosmic Causal Body, which is personified as Isvara, and are made manifest through the conditioning that maya upadhi, the limiting adjunct of causal matter, puts upon Brahman. That is, the mind is an instrument that is designed or a mechanism that is “programmed” to recognize these forms and, thus, is able to discern their apparent existence within the cosmic soup of pure potentiality (i.e., the unmanifest realm or “mind of God,” if you will) from the data it receives via the perceptive instruments/organs. Continue reading

Life is a dream – The world is real


A. Of course, if everything is like a dream (mithyA), then the sages and their scriptures are a part of that dream. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the teachings and the scriptures are not useful for awakening from the dream.

B. That is true, in my understanding. ‘Life is a Dream’ (Calderón de la Barca’s play), ‘All the world’s a stage’ (Shakespeare). As to Vedanta, here is what a sage (among so many others) has said: “Vedanta plays the role of the dream lion in this world. Vedantic knowledge itself is part of the illusory world. But then it dissolves the entire illusion of this world, revealing reality as it is.” Sw. Parthsarathy.

A. If no one dies, then no one is enlightened either, and yet we still talk as if people really do die and really do become enlightened.

B. True also. That modifier, ‘as if’, is crucial.

In the next para. you write: “…an individual who appears to exist while not really existing (AS AN INDIVIDUAL) has appeared to become enlightened while not really being enlightened (AS THE PURPORTED INDIVIDUAL).” I have taken the liberty of adding the capital letters, for advaitic sense. Further, while ‘everybody is enlightened’, as Neo advaitins claim, ‘no one is enlightened’, as the sage Gaudapada declared. Are these two seemingly contradictory statements true – and in what sense? *

A. I think the problem with brain damage is the possibility that a j~nAnI [sage] would lose most or all of the knowledge (including Self-knowledge) that he gained through his studies.

B. This is as seen from the vyavaharika (empirical) perspective, which cannot be denied (only understood). Jñani/s (sages) also experience thoughts and emotions. With them, these either quickly disappear, or are transmuted or resolved into consciousness; in fact, they are only consciousness, as mind is also a projection of consciousness.

Something more for pondering: “People forget the reality of the illusory world”. Huang Po.

(*) Gaudapada (Shankara, and the whole tradition of advaita Vedanta) deny multiplicity as being real. In essence ‘all is One’. The Neo-advaitin’s dictum (’everybody is enlightened’) is thus true and false at the same time.


Reality, appearance, and Time


Lord Vishnu: As a matter of fact, the trunk, stem, branches, leaves and so on did not emerge out of the seed. The seed has transformed itself into all of them.

रूपालोक मनस्कार तत्ताकाल क्रियात्मक्म् ।

कुम्भकारो घटमिव चेतोहन्ति करोतिच ॥ — sarga 48 – shloka 52

What is present now is perceived by the senses. What will be in the future is anticipated by the mind by its projection. What was past is remembered by the mind by identifying itself with the past things/ events. Therefore, it can also be said as:

Present Time       rUpAloka kAla        Period of Direct Observation (Perception)

Future Time         manaskAra kAla    Period of Mental Projection (Anticipation)

Past Time            tattA kAla                Period of Mental Identification (Remembrance)

Thus the three times viz., Present, Future and Past are nothing but what the mind makes up like a potter churns out pottery. It is again the mind that makes them disappear.  — p: 84


Sage Gadhi: Pardon me, My Lord! You insist that every event, every ‘thing’ in the world is a phantasm, a creation of the mind. It is quite puzzling to me. Certain things take place in the world as per the Law of Nature regularly on time. If it is taken that the entire world is nothing but a figment of imagination, how can there be a rule or rhyme to it? How can any Law of Nature be valid? The world does certainly seem to revolve around a time frame. How is it possible to attribute it to some fancy? Continue reading

The Past and Future Are In The “Now” Only

The 53 min long Physics Video on “Illusion of Time” is now available on Youtube.
If you have not already seen it, you should not miss as a Vedantin.
Please watch it to know the latest developments in Physics on What is Time, Time travel etc.  What does “Now” mean is covered from about 20th minute to 32nd minute.  There is nothing like a  ‘past’ that has given way to the ‘present’ in absolute one dimensional time. 
As Dr. Albert Einstein said: “The distinction between past, present and future is only an illusion, however persistent. (In a letter to Michelangelo Besso, 21 March 1955).
One aspect not covered in the Video is this: It is easy to imagine for any one that the present “now” (at this moment) can develop into any number of different possible scenarios in the “future.”  Each such possibility could happen in one or the other universe out of multiple universes (H. Everett’s hypothesis).  Similarly then, because of time symmetry in physical laws, one can imagine that the present “now”  (as an outcome) has multiple possibilities in the past.  (One strange consequence is one can never be sure that one is definitely the child of only a specific couple!).
The Link:  Click  here.