Q.404 Practising Advaita

Q: I need some practical guidance on practising advaita in daily life. Please advise me of the best course of action.

A (Dennis): You cannot ‘practise’ Advaita. Advaita is a teaching/philosophy. Its aim is to bring you to the total understanding that reality is non-dual; that all-there-is is brahman or Consciousness, and that who-you-really-are is that brahman. Only the body-mind can ‘practise’ or ‘live a life’ and you are not that. The body-mind and the world are mithyA, which means that they are not real in themselves; their real substratum is brahman.

Q: Many thanks for the response. I have a question though. I understand that Advaita is a philosophy.  But what does one do with a philosophy? Try to understand? Try to live it? What is my next course of action? I know that action should be ruled out. But what is the next step for me? What do I do or where do I go from here. I hope I am able to explain my point. I look forward to hear from you.

A: Advaita is a teaching methodology. It provides a step by step ‘education’ for the seeker to bring him or her Self-knowledge. Ideally, this teaching is given by a qualified teacher. This is someone who already has Self-knowledge and also has the skills to teach it to someone else. Since the original teaching derives from the scriptures, a deep understanding of these and a knowledge of Sanskrit is also deemed by many to be a necessary qualification for a teacher.

Accordingly, the next step would ideally be to find such a teacher and study with them for as long as necessary – usually at least a few years. Failing that, you have to read widely (but only those books that do not confuse!) and ask lots of questions (of someone who can answer them!).

Q.400 – Consciousness and the person

A few questions or clarifications please…

  1. As you’ve said to me before, to focus on this world and everything within it, is really the wrong focus, because it’s mithyA. And what we really are, is that in which all of it occurs?
  2. Am I correct in saying that Vedanta is truly a specific system or process to know who you really are as well as understanding the functioning of everything?
  3. So the elements or energy is not who we are since they are dependent on Consciousness. As Nisargadatta said, “without Consciousness nothing is”.
  4. To gain self-knowledge however, there must be a body with a nervous system. So the body does matter in relation to self-knowledge? But, consciousness doesn’t care whether it’s manifested or not?
  5. Words cause confusion, so what is the difference between Consciousness and Awareness from your understanding?
  6. The mind is discussed a lot, and many say that to have ‘no mind’ is the key to peace and freedom. Is the mind a part of the brain or something entirely different?
  7. Upon gaining self-knowledge, does the mind continue or fade away if you will, leaving the brain to function in its normal and natural way without the mind blocking it?

A (Dennis):

  1. You are not the body-mind; you are Consciousness. There is only Consciousness in reality; the ‘rest’ is just appearance and mistaken interpretation.
  2. Advaita is a teaching methodology to bring you to this realization.
  3. Elements, energy etc are only name and form of Consciousness.
  4. In reality, there is only Consciousness. From the perspective of the person, there is a body-mind. The realization that there is only Consciousness has to take place in the mind of the person in order for the person to realize that ‘All there is is Consciousness’.
  5. You can define words how you like. As long as you do this, there need not be any confusion. The way I use these terms is that Consciousness (capital ‘C’) is the reality (better called ‘Brahman’ to avoid confusion); and ‘awareness’ (capital or not) and ‘consciousness’ (small ‘c’) refer to the person’s perceiving/conceiving ability.
  6. The ‘person’ requires a mind in order to function in the world. This applies whether the person has Self-knowledge or not.
  7. It is likely (though not necessary) that the mind of someone with Self-knowledge will be less prone to disturbance by desire/fear etc.

Q.399 – Self-evident Atma

Q: I want to ask about the following quotation from your series on upadesha sAhasrI – part 19 (upadesha sAhasrI compiled by R. B. Athreya from the lectures of Swami Paramarthananda):

Atma, though a knower of everything, is not a known object, because, if Atma were to be a known object it will need another Atma to know, leading to what is known as infinite regress (anavasta dosham)Atma cannot be known by itself, because, to be known by itself, it has to become both the subject and the object, which is not possible as one and the same entity cannot function as subject and object simultaneously.

We cannot also say that one part of Atma can be known by another part, as Atma is by definition partless.  Thus, Atma is ever the knower but not known by others or by itself. 

As Atma is self-evident, its existence needs no proof.  That I am conscious is evident to me.  The very search for proof is possible because of my being conscious.  Thus, Atma is revealed as self-evident Witness Consciousness which illumines everything and which cannot be objectified by anything.  This Atma is my real nature.  All the known attributes belong to the known objects and cannot belong to the knower, Atma (consciousness).” Continue reading

Q.398 – Use of metaphors

Q: There are two concepts, super-imposition and manifestation, in Advaita to  describe the ‘relationship’ between Brahaman and the empirical world. Super-imposition means that the world is super-imposed on Brahaman. Manifestation means that the world is a manifestation of Brahaman. My doubt is as to how a manifestation can be super-imposition also? My gut feeling is that there is a subtle link between the two concepts which I am unable to ‘see’ because of the proverbial ‘ignorance’. 

A (Dennis): They are each a metaphor to give the mind some insight into the nature of reality. The reality is non-dual so that all metaphors and all ‘explanations’ are ultimately untrue. The world and the jIva are mithyA. Brahman has no relationships. Use the metaphors and explanations of the scriptures and teachers to help guide the mind to realization of the truth but don’t ever take them as more than what they are. And do not worry if one ‘explanation’ disagrees with (or even contradicts) another. They all have to be dropped in the end!

Q.396 – Atman cannot be known

Q: Swami Paramarthananda makes the following comments in his talks on upadeSha sAhasrI:

Atma, though a knower of everything, is not a known object, because, if Atma were to be a known object it will need another Atma to know, leading to what is known as infinite regress (anavasta dosham).  Atma cannot be known by itself, because, to be known by itself, it has to become both the subject and the object, which is not possible as one and the same entity cannot function as subject and object simultaneously.

We cannot also say that one part of Atma can be known by another part, as Atma is by definition partless.  Thus, Atma is ever the knower but not known by others or by itself. 

No Proof Needed

As Atma is self-evident, its existence needs no proof.  That I am conscious is evident to me.  The very search for proof is possible because of my being conscious.  Thus, Atma is revealed as self-evident Witness Consciousness which illumines everything and which cannot be objectified by anything.  This Atma is my real nature.  All the known attributes belong to the known objects and cannot belong to the knower, Atma (consciousness). Continue reading

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

Continuing Reflections (on reflections)

reflections

Back in April I wrote an article which looked into the concept of chidAbhAsahttp://www.advaita-vision.org/chidabhasa/. This is the idea that the ‘notion of I’ is a reflection, in the mind, of the non-dual consciousness. The theory is called pratibimba vAda in advaita. It says that there is only one ‘real’, pAramArthika or witnessing Consciousness, although there are many jIva-s; one ‘original’ (bimba) and many ‘reflections’ (pratibimba-s).

But of course, reality is non-dual, so it makes no sense to talk of a ‘Consciousness’ and a ‘reflected Consciousness’! So how do we explain this? In order for there to be a reflection, there have to be two things: an original thing, and some medium in which a reflection can take place. This is obvious in the case of the mirror. We cannot see our face in order to be able to shave or apply make up by looking into empty space. We cannot even do it by looking at a blank wall. There has to be a mirror or some reflecting medium which can serve as a mirror. Here, we seem to be saying that there is Consciousness and a reflecting medium – the mind. But of course if we have these two things, then we’re talking about dvaita not advaita.

Shankara’s Advaita introduces the concept of mAyA to provide a sort-of explanation for the world-appearance but the dvaitin may argue that, pedantically, brahman and mAyA are still two things. Only if we can explain everything in terms of paramArtha alone, he might say, can we establish non-duality. Of course, we can be pedantic too – you cannot explain anything in paramArtha, only in vyavahAra! But we acknowledge that mAyA is mithyA. In reality, there are no jIva-s, no world, no reflections. So, the bottom line is that reality is non-dual, so that we do not really have to justify the theory at all! Continue reading