Q.381 – Knowledge, belief and experience

Note: This discussion follows on from the last question on ‘Finding a Teacher’ (apart from the introductory paragraphs).

Many seekers think that the essence of enlightenment is ‘experience’; that they need to actually experience something for themselves before they can be regarded as enlightened. In line with this, they denigrate the notion that a teacher can convey whatever it is that the seeker needs by simply talking to them, answering questions and so on. Even worse, they feel, is the idea that enlightenment can be gained by reading a book!

Maybe the term ‘Self-inquiry’ is largely to blame for this misconception. Seekers attached to this idea think that subjecting their own experiences (perceptions, ideas, theories etc) to close examination is somehow the key.

Whatever is the case, such seekers are seriously confused and need to distinguish carefully between ‘experience’, ‘belief’ and ‘knowledge’. Below I provide a question and answer discussion I had early last year with a reader on this general subject. But first I would like to give an example from my own experience, which (for me) provided a very clear distinction between these three. (And I refer to this example in the question and answer session.)

The experience occurred about 30 years ago. You will have to bear with me as it takes a little while (and two diagrams!) to explain. Continue reading

Knowledge, Action and Liberation – AV


title figure 1When Ed Witten, the legendary genius Physicist of Princeton, proposed his theory integrating the four or five disparate string theories during the mid-nineties, he called it the M-theory. He did not specify what exactly M stood for.  So Science Communicators went wild with their own interpretations. Some said M is for Mother to say it is the mother of all theories. Others said M is for Meta. Still others said M is for Membrane or Matrix. Some even suggested M is for Mystery or  Magic.

I leave it to the imagination of the reader what AV stands for in the title of this Post.

It can mean Another View, Advaita Vedanta, Alternate Version, Astonishing Vision, Absolute Veridicality or one can even split the two words and pair them to suit to their taste — like Absolute Vedanta or Another Version etc.


First Kudos to Dennis for a smooth and clear explication of a topic usually considered abstruse and difficult in his recent post titled “Knowledge, Action and Liberation.”  He takes off with an elan and panache that only he can. But en route he hits a patch of misdirecting metaphor. The promised destination, alas is missed! Continue reading

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

upadesha sAhasrI – part 15


Part 15 of the serialization of the  presentation (compiled by R. B. Athreya from the lectures given by Swami Paramarthananda) of upadesha sAhasrI. This is the prakaraNa grantha which is agreed by most experts to have been written by Shankara himself and is an elaborate unfoldment of the essence of Advaita.

Subscribers to Advaita Vision are also offered special rates on the journal and on books published by Tattvaloka. See the full introduction

Incomplete Enlightenment – Q.333

Q: As I understand, the sense of “I” (distinguished from the ultimate I/Self)  is the source of “ignorance”. “Ignorance” leads to “the fear”, which inspires us to attempt to find “enlightenment”. The attempt to find “enlightenment” is the delusion that there is something to gain. The teachings tell us that “enlightenment” is the nature of existence. What needs to happen is the destruction/removal of ignorance, rather than the acquisition of anything. I already feel as if I have approached the “screen” upon which phenomenon occurs. By practicing “neti neti”, I attempt to see what always is, which is a temporary attempt to disregard things that can be seen. Once this happens, there is the inference of blankness/darkness/all-inclusiveness/voidness. And once this practice of “neti neti” is over, I begin to see things come of themselves, from little sparks … flakes of concepts … to their blooming as a climax of a concept. The climax wanes and the concept disappears of itself just as it arose.

A short time after this attempt at enquiry, the ease I had with reality fades. The sense that reality is not okay begins to gradually return. It feels as if I missed something from this experience. At other times, I feel as if perhaps this effort is part of the problem. Maybe the enquiry is meant to be a last ditch attempt to notice the fallacy of trying to do something, or even the attempt to try to do nothing.

 Is this the realization? That effort is resistance? That surrender to this fact is the ultimate motion?

 How does it happen that one can know “in the mind” that one is free, and yet continue to fall back into the conundrum of no longer feeling this freedom? Moments of complete freedom … knowing that it’s not my business to “do” life, not even to attempt to not “do” life … and yet slowly fall back into the habit? Continue reading

Bhagavad-Gita and Advaita – Q. 329

Q:  How would it be possible to deal with our common Bhagavad Gita in terms of Advaita Vedanta?

A (Ramesam): Please appreciate that Bhagavad-Gita is not the primary or basic text for Advaita. Though many of the verses in it are almost exact mantras from various Upanishads, prior to Sankara (8th Century A.D), Bhagavad-Gita was not perhaps as popular a scriptural text for teaching Vedanta as it is today. It was a part of the mythological story, Mahabharata.  Some people hold that the Bhagavad-Gita of Mahabhrata contained 745 verses. Some others opine that the original Gita was much smaller and it was Sankara who compiled the present Gita putting together diverse verses from different sources. None of these opinions, however, have any credible supporting evidence.  The first extant gloss on the Gita is by Sankara and it contains 700 verses (one or two verses are still disputed and said to have been later insertions). Continue reading