Tattvabodha – Part 21

Part 21 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 21 begins the chapter on micro and macrocosm with a look at the jIva and its distinction from Ishvara.

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

Q.394 – Becoming One

Q: The question about Ishvara, Atman, Brahman gets confusing once a person starts reading and gaining knowledge from different branches of religions or schools of philosophy. So to put my question as simply as possible: If we are all Brahman then how does Karma come into play for us as individuals ? (As technically it’s Brahman acting against Brahman.)

One other thing:

Let’s say there are two people ( You and Me ) who realises the truth and doesn’t need to take rebirth again, so once their body dies, their Atman merges back with Brahman. So once that happens, do both these people become one ? At the highest level, Yes ! Because they were always One ! But would a part of them both remain ‘Them’ ? As in a person who sent a mail and a person who replied to it ? If so, then is that ‘Part’ what we’d call a soul ?

A (Dennis): In reality there is only brahman, non-dual, formless, eternal etc.

The world (including the ‘person’) is mithyA, neither real nor unreal, depending for its existence on brahman. The ‘person’ is a mind-body, ‘animated’ by Consciousness via a ‘reflection’ of brahman in the mind. This concept, called chidAbhAsa, is fundamental to understanding the seeming problems you raise. See my essays on this subject: There is an article called “The ‘Real I’ verses the ‘Presumed I’ – An Examination of chidAbhAsa” – http://www.advaita-vision.org/chidabhasa/ and a follow-up blog called ‘Continuing Reflections on Reflection’ at http://www.advaita-vision.org/continuing-reflections-on-reflections/. Continue reading

Q. 390 – karma and judgement

Q: On the subject of karma please could you explain who or what decides on the destination of the “stamp/soul/” to a higher or lower life form. It would seem to be a judgmental decision based on our behaviour so presumably cannot be “Self” which is unaffected and affects nothing?

A (Dennis): You have to distinguish between paramArtha and vyavahAra. The absolute reality is that there is only brahman – non-dual Consciousness. There is no world separate from Consciousness, no people separate from Consciousness. The world and people are mithyA. So, in reality karma has to be mithyA also; there is no birth, no death, no reincarnation, no one who acts and no one to be reborn as a cockroach.

Explanations at the level of vyavahAra are interim explanations for the benefit of someone who does not yet appreciate the above. At this level, there seems to be cause and effect and all the apparent scientific laws that operate in the world. Ishvara is the name given to the ‘entity’ of ‘brahman + mAyA’ who lays down these laws. But the laws are not operated by Him on an individual basis; they are simply the ‘rules’ that are necessarily followed by everything in creation (such as gravity, Newton’s Laws etc). There is no ‘judgement’ involved at all.

Wave and Ocean

The ‘ocean-wave’ metaphor is a potentially powerful one but is often misunderstood. Here are a few quotes pulled off the Internet from a Google search:

 “The waves emerge briefly as a separate entity; however, just as quickly merge back into the ocean of which it is a part. Us, as human beings, are very much like the waves of the ocean. We briefly surface and display a uniqueness that cannot be duplicated; however, in the end, we reunite with the Whole.”

 “Actually our existence is just like an ocean. You are a wave of the ocean. You may be the most powerful, most thunderous, most beautiful and most inspiring wave of this ocean. But in the ultimate analysis you are just a wave. And the destiny of a wave is to merge again into the ocean. One day your little wave will also merge in the ocean of existence. Contemplate on this and understand the reality. We all are simple and ordinary in front of this huge cosmic play that is going on.”

 “To explain this further, Babaji gave beautiful example of wave – the wave by itself has no identity, it has identity of wave only for a certain time.  When it rises it is known as wave, but once it merges back into the ocean the wave no longer remains the wave, it becomes the ocean.  We have the karmic illusion of different and separate identity.  When we go in, there is no difference, we are particles of that One.” Continue reading

Vision Of Truth (sad darshanam – Part 22)

धिये प्रकाशं परमो वितीर्य
स्वयं धियोSन्त: प्रविभाति गुप्त:
धियं परावर्त्य धियोSन्तरेSत्र
संयोजनान्नेश्वर दृष्टिरन्या—-२४

dhiye prakAsham paramH vitIrya
svayam dhiyaH antaH pravibhAti guptaH
dhiyam parAvartya dhiyaH antare atra
samyojanAt na ishvara dRiShTiH anyA

धिये प्रकाशं परमो वितीर्य = the self after having given sentiency to the mind;
स्वयं धियोSन्त: प्रविभाति गुप्त: = is itself hidden, as it were, and shines in the mind;
धियं परावर्त्य धियोSन्तरेSत्र = having turned the mind inward, here within the intellect
संयोजनान्नेश्वर दृष्टिरन्या = because of uniting, ishvara darshana takes place, not otherwise

The self, after having given sentiency to the mind is itself hidden, as it were, and shines in the mind . Having turned the mind inward, here within the intellect, because of uniting, ishvara darshana takes place, not otherwise

The mind which is a product of matter does not clearly have a sentiency of its own. The different states that the mind fluctuates into are enough to substantiate the fact that mind by itself is lifeless. In the waking state, the mind is fully aware, gaining impulses, reacting, reporting etc. It is alive to the world. In the dream state, the mind is partially awake. It has the capacity to manifest a dream world out of its own self; yet is oblivious to the outside world. It is in a semi -active condition. In the deep sleep, the mind is fully resolved. There is no interaction with the world nor is there a manifested dream world from the stuff of the mind. A mind which fluctuates into these conditions has to depend on something, since something that fluctuates can never be the absolute. This absolute which provides it with the aliveness is the self.
Continue reading

Advaita is not Idealism

Thames(Originally posted to Advaita Academy Nov 2010)

All students of advaita know that every ‘thing’ is brahman. And they know that ‘I am brahman’. It is therefore a trivial mathematical reduction to say that everything is me. But there is a danger here. Some people conclude that the world is an appearance that ‘I’ create in some way; that the world ‘is’ because I perceive it. In this way, such people claim that advaita is equivalent to the subjective idealism of the Western philosopher Berkeley, who said “to be is to be perceived” (esse est percipi). This, of course, is a denial of the separate existence of matter and this might naïvely be thought to be equivalent to the Advaitin concept of mithyA.

(Note that the word ‘ idealism’ has nothing to do with aiming for perfection, but means that things have no reality in themselves, only existing as ideas in mind.)

From the point of view of absolute reality, there is only brahman. But then there is nothing to talk about! Such a discussion is only meaningful from the standpoint of empirical reality – our everyday world. If subjective idealism were true, the world would cease to exist when we go to sleep and would have to be created anew on awakening. Berkeley got around this sort of problem by claiming that the world continues to exist because it is perceived by God. And again, one might be tempted to claim that this parallels advaita in that we claim that the world is a creation of Ishvara, rather than the individual. This is not quite the case. In advaita, objects really do exist. Ishvara is the material cause, as well as the efficient cause of the universe. The point is that the substratum of their existence is brahman alone. In the case of Berkeley, however, the objects only exist in the mind of God, as it were.

Greg Goode, who studied Berkeley for his doctorate, believes that Berkeley’s last book may well have resolved his views to match those of advaita, but there were very few copies of that book ever made and it has not been possible to confirm this.

Advaita, then, does not claim that objects have no reality separate from the subject at the level of the world. In this sense, it is a realist philosophy and not an idealist one. This is highlighted by the following very interesting analysis, which I recently came across in one of the talks by Swami Paramarthananda on the Brahma Sutra.

Our principal pramANa, or source of knowledge, is pratyakSha or perception. When we see something for the first time, we see it in the present and, as a result of the examination of its various attributes, we conclude what it is. We can call this ‘cognition’. At some time in the future, we may encounter an object. By comparing its attributes in the present with remembered attributes from the past (as retrieved from the memory), we may be forced to conclude that this object is the same one that we saw in the past. This is called ‘recognition’ – seeing the object again. This fact of recognition is effectively a refutation of idealism (which is also the philosophy of the yogachAra or vij~nAna vAda Buddhists, a branch of Mahayana Buddhism). If the object that is seen now is the same object as the one that was seen in the past, then clearly it has a real existence and is not only an appearance in mind (which might otherwise be called a figment of the imagination).

You can read a series of essays from Chittaranjan Naik on ‘A Realist View of Advaita’.

Q. 365 – Free Will and mumukShutva

Q: In your answer to Q. 12 (http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/q_and_a/q_and_a2.htm#q12), you said: “At the level of appearance, yes, there is only causality to account for actions. But this does not lead to passivity. Darwinian selection naturally inculcates competition, ‘development’ and ‘progress’. And there is no escaping the fact that we feel as though we have free will. We feel good when we get what we want and bad when we don’t. All of this stuff will carry on regardless but there is no need to feel negative about it. It really is all quite amazing, isn’t it? It is all arising within you, for your enjoyment, as it were!”

 And in your answer to Q.22 (http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/q_and_a/q_and_a3.htm#q22) you said: “At the level of the phenomenal, all proceeds according to cause and effect (or the laws of Ishvara if you prefer!). Also, there appears to be free will (although I have argued – and believe it to be the case – that the evidence is that there is no free will even at the level of appearance). Again, at the level of appearance, there are clearly individuals (jIva-s) and they are affected by all of the influences (including their own apparent volition) according to the cause-effect laws.”

 (My italics to highlight what triggered my question.)

 If there’s only causality to account for actions, there should be no space for free will, as all of my actions are causal. And if there is just a feeling that we have of a free will, then there is no free will. To put it in other words, if there is no free will, how can I actually do mumukShutvam (if desire also is a kind of a free will)? For intense Longing for Liberation to happen, I should be blessed with Free Will. Continue reading

Vision Of Truth (sad darshanam) – Part 20


avIkshya tanmAnasikekshaNam syAt

na drashTuranyaH paramo hi tasya

vIkshA svamUle pravilIya niShThA—22


yadIshituH vIkshaNam = that (which)vision of Ishvara as an object; IkshitAram = Atma, the observer; avIkshya = not recognizing; tanmAnasikekshaNam syAt = will be a mental projection; drashTuranyaH paramaH na = No supreme other than seer; hi = indeed; tasya vIkshA = his vision; svamUle niShThA = abidance in one’s own nature; pravilIya = having resolved.


That vision of Ishvara (as an object), which is, without recognizing the observer Atma, is only a mental projection. There indeed is no supreme other than the seer. His vision is the abidance in one’s own nature having resolved the triad.


As long as Ishvara is considered as an entity separate from oneself, so long misery continues. Vision of Ishvara as an object, is merely a mental projection. If one has a vision, it is something other, external to him, meaning, the form of the vision has a beginning outside of him. Hence, there is a limited form to the Ishvara seen in a vision. Such an Ishvara is finite. How is that vision of any help?

Continue reading

Translating Vedantic terms to Western seekers – Faith, God, Sin

599985_web_R_B_by_Dieter Schütz_pixelio.deThe following is blog I posted in 2011 when I was a blogger of Advaita Academy. As all of the addressed terms concern our topic of the month “belief” I am publishing it here again (with small alterations):


The word faith carries two meanings: trust and belief.

When I trust in something I meet it with confidence; even without knowing its exact nature, I assume that it will not harm me, rather that it will be beneficial to me when I expose myself to it.

When I believe in something I meet it with a conviction to be existent; I also may not know its exact nature but there is not necessarily an assumption involved that it will be beneficial to me.

Trust invites devotion – devote what? Time, energy, other resources. Devotion to what? To something assumed to be benevolent.

Belief demands submission – submit what? Any convictions, insights, reasoning or intuitions that contradict the belief. Submission to what? To something assumed to exist.

Shraddha is one of the nine virtues that should be cultivated by an aspirant to Advaita Vedanta, i.e. shraddha is considered to be one of the most essential traits someone should own when embarking on the journey to discover his/her own true Self. Usually shraddha is translated as “faith”.

Now, in the context of Advaita Vedanta it seems to be crucial that shraddha as faith is explained, understood and associated with trust and devotion, not with belief and submission of one’s own reasoning capacities. This is especially important when addressing Western seekers.


Continue reading

Review of article on Shankara by Ramakrisnan Balasubramanian

(This is a slightly modified article published here one year ago, which was improperly and incompletely posted. Ramesam had asked me to review the following article, with which I complied after much hesitation. The article is over 40 p. long and quite dense and complicated in parts – in other words, ‘academic’: for specialists only; one could add: cutting the slices so thin, that the substance is practically lost, or forgotten).

Review of ‘A New Approach to Understanding Advaita as Taught by ´Sa ˙ nkara Bhagavadp¯ada’ – by Ramakrishnan Balasubrahmanian. Continue reading