Q. 414 – Is liberation guaranteed?

Q: Is final liberation from brith and death cycle guaranteed for everyone? Will some individuals attain liberation in 300 lifetimes, others in 300.000 but it will always be a finite time? Or is it the case that some individuals can collect worse and worse karma and as a result experience more and more suffering without end?

A (Dennis): I don’t really like this sort of question! Implicit in the question is the assumption that there really are individual people who undergo birth and death and rebirth. This, of course, is how it seems to be from the vantage point of the mind ‘before liberation’. And traditional advaita certainly teaches all of this in the beginning. However, the ‘bottom line’ of advaita is that there never has been any creation; there are not really any jIva-s or worlds; there is not really any karma or reincarnation. So, in the end, the question is meaningless. The truth is that there is only ever brahman or Consciousness, and brahman ever was and ever will be; no birth or death, no heaven or hell.

This may not be the answer you were looking for but I don’t want to give you an interim explanation which has to be taken back later.

Q: There is still the fear in me that my suffering will never end. It does not matter that this is only from a relative dreamer perspective. When I was young and stupid, I had an obsessive compulsive disorder which make me perform rituals. I had to do them in the proper sequence and time and told myself that if I ‘pass’ I will be happy forever and if I not I will suffer worse and worse pain – progressive suffering forever – the worst imaginable fate.

A: What you have to understand is that you are not these ideas in your mind. In fact, you are not the mind or body. One of the most useful metaphors is to think of the mind as a ‘reflector’ of consciousness, in a similar way to a mirror being a reflector of light. Just as the sun in the mirror is not the real sun, so the consciousness in your mind is not the real Consciousness. You currently think that you are the reflection but who you really are is the Consciousness itself, which ‘shines’ independently of the existence of the reflection. It is only the reflection that thinks it is suffering, just as a dirty mirror might ‘think’ that it is not reflecting properly. You are really eternal and ever free, unaffected by anything.

Atma vichAra

The Self cannot be ‘known’ in any objective sense because it is the ultimate subject – there is no other subject that could know it. This is why science can never tell us anything about the Self. Science works by collecting data and analyzing it; formulating theories and then using them to predict what will happen when data are gathered in a different situation. This can never be applied to Self/brahman, because brahman has no data.

Strictly speaking, vichAra refers to investigation into ‘things’ so that Atma vichAra is effectively a contradiction in terms; the Self is not a thing. Spiritual investigation has to be done rather differently. The correct term is shAstra mImAMsA and it is really scriptural ‘investigation’ that we must conduct in order to find out about the Self. Monier-Williams translates mImAMsA as “profound thought or reflection or consideration; investigation, examination, discussion”. The philosophical branch that studies the Upanishads etc at the end of the Vedas (Vedanta) is called uttara mImAMsA. (uttara means “later, following, subsequent, concluding” but also “superior, chief, excellent, dominant”.)

We ‘discover’ the Self by removing ignorance. If someone holds up a screen in front of our face and then brings an object to show us, but keeps it behind the screen, we can say nothing at all about the object. However, as soon as the screen is taken away, the object is revealed to our senses and the perception takes place automatically. Similarly, knowledge of the Self is obscured by ignorance but as soon as that ignorance is removed, the Self is immediately self-evident; we do not have to do anything to ‘investigate’ it.

Scripture functions like a mirror. When we look into a mirror, we do not literally see our face and body, we only see an image of it. Yet this enables us directly to perform whatever actions are required on the body itself – combing the hair, shaving and so on. We do not shave the image but the actual hair on the face. Similarly, the scriptures do not directly represent the Self but the information therein, when explained by a qualified teacher, directly enables the ignorance in our mind to be removed, revealing the Self-knowledge which is as though hidden beneath.

Actions will never bring about Self-knowledge, since action is not opposed to ignorance. Nor will practices such as meditation or prayer. As Swami Paramarthananda puts it, meditation will only bring about quiet ignorance.

As Shankara puts it (if he was the author of vivekachUDAmaNi v.13): “It is through reflection over the words of a truly benevolent soul that one comes to a knowledge of reality, and not through bathing at sacred places, charity or hundreds of breathing practices”. [1] I.e. it is through shravaNa, manana and nididhyAsana and not through asking ‘Who am I?’ that one gains Self-knowledge.

[1] The Crest Jewel of Wisdom; viveka-chUDAmaNi, commentary by Hari Prasad Shastri, Shanti Sadan, 1997. ISBN 0-85421-047-0.

Atman- mirror

1.19. Just as a mirror exists within and without the image reflected in it, so the Supreme Self exists inside and outside this body.

The idea is this: The image in the mirror has no real existence. It is a mere appearance. Only the mirror exists. Similarly, only the Self exists. Body, mind, etc have no real existence. It is only by being superimposed on the Self that they appear to exist. Just as the reflection cannot affect the mirror, so body, mind etc cannot affect the Self.

aShTAvakra saMhitA, Swami Nityaswarupananda, Advaita Ashrama, No ISBN.

The Changing World – Q.337

Q: Since brahman is non-dual, attributeless, changeless, and eternal, and since brahman is everything, it must follow that everything is also non-dual, attributeless, changeless, and eternal. So how can it be that we experience duality, attributes, change, and impermanence in the world? How can the changeless manifest change, even if this change is in appearance only (mithyA)? How can there be anything but the “perfect” unchanging oneness if everything is this oneness?

A (Ramesam):  The manifestation of Consciousness (= Brahman) as the world (multiplicity) in a sense is an “explanatory gap” from a strict rationalistic point of view. It is, perhaps, the ‘weakest link’ in the Advaita siddhanta (theoretical framework).

Having said so, there are a number of ways to resolve the ‘One –-> many’ problem. I shall list here several metaphors just to answer the “appearance” of the world part without getting into the bigger questions related to why and how of “creation” itself (origin of the universe). Continue reading


Today we bundle everything that is considered spiritual under the term New Age. There are even people, who consider psychotherapy as spiritual and again others who would call their traditional religious practices spiritual. Thus „spirituality“ is a broad field. Advaita Vedanta provides a very specific definition for spirituality that sets limits to this broad field. In Advaita Vedanta someone is considered spiritual only, if he/she wants to realize truth – the key to truth being realizing my true nature, who or what I am – as distinct from body and mind. Everything else may lead to spirituality, but will not provide the realization, that I long for.

Spiritual search 

All humans are seekers, all humans want to grow beyond themselves. Some want to multiply their possessions because they assume that thereby their limits extend. Others want to increase their quality of life because it helps them over the inevitable limits of human existence. Again others believe that such outer changes won’t be effective as long as one does not have a psyche that is able to enjoy possession as well as quality of life. These start to work at the psychological level to thereby grow beyond themselves. Others aim to extend their limits by exploring subtle phenomena and experimenting with them. Continue reading