We started this enquiry into identity by employing a simple piece of logic: you cannot be what you observe. From this point of view, the things we normally take ourselves to be, starting with the body, were systematically discounted because they turn out to be objects of perception, as covered in the first three parts of this series. Despite this reasoning, the tendency to believe our identity with the amalgam of body, senses and mind tends to remains very powerful: we continue to believe that we are these individuals bound by skin, with an experiential history and an instinctive, habitual mindset through which ‘I’ filter the world.
Identity with the body is evidenced by the vast cosmetic surgery industry today. People feel better with fewer wrinkles, larger breasts, drug-induced libido, less fat, etc. That’s the extreme end, but coming closer to the average person, we think of ourselves as too tall, too short, too hot or cold. If the body is in pain, we say: I am in pain. We really do mean ‘I’ when we say: I am hot, cold, ugly, beautiful, too short, too fat, too old. By employing the incontrovertible logic of ‘I cannot be what I can observe’, it does not take long for us to realise that the body is an object of perception: ‘I’ can experience my body using my five senses. We then ask: Who is observing the body? Continue reading →
When we analysed the world of objects in the waking state we came to the understanding that our experience of the variety of objects is due to the variety of corresponding mental impressions (covered in Part 2 of this series). If there isn’t a mental impression ‘this is a pot’ then, despite fully-functioning senses, the pot will be as good as non-existent. The perception of ‘is-ness’ is the single, unchanging common thread in all our worldly experiences. This perception is given the name, ‘consciousness’.
When we analysed our dream state experience we realised that the same observation holds true for the dream universe as for the universe we encounter when awake. This experience gives an added dimension to our understanding of consciousness: not only is it the one, unchanging basis of the varied, changing objects (gross and subtle), but now we see that it is also continuous through the changing states of experience. The ‘I’ that is awake is the same ‘I’ that dreamt: ‘I am awake, I had a dream’. Continue reading →
So how do we know how Brahman is? The teacher says that each object of experience has 5 aspects: asti, bhāti, priyam, rūpam, nāma. Asti = ‘is’. You know the meaning of the word ‘cat’, but not pay attention to the meaning of the word ‘is’, which means ‘isness’, which means ‘existence’. When you say ‘cat is’ you mean that the existence of the cat is. Any object of experience you can name is.
Existence is the intrinsic nature of Brahman, the Reality. In what form is Brahman? Continue reading →
Part 9 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.
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 →
One of the more difficult ideas for some Western seekers to accept is God, the Lord. The usual picture is of a highly judgmental white-bearded figure, sitting in heaven, dispensing punishments and rewards. God, in this picture, is all-controlling, all-powerful and thus I am small and insignificant and a mere pawn in his game. This sort of idea of the Lord is also prevalent in the East. For the godless, prayer and worship obviously have no place, and for the theists, prayer and worship are ultimately to secure a place in heaven or worldly comforts and pleasures. In one of her talks to her London students, Swāminī Ātmaprakāśānanda put all of this into perspective so that anyone with an open mind could get a wider, more liberating vision of these important and vital matters. This part deconstructs the concept of Lord…
What is this world? The world is nothing but a world of objects – different objects, perceptible through different senses. You can reduce the whole universe into five types of objects, perceptible through the five different senses. Every object becomes as good as non-existent if it is not perceived by the appropriate sense organ.
Despite its size, the universe would be as good as non-existent if you didn’t perceive it. The universe has the status of being existent only when it is perceived by you. The Gītā says: “They say the sense powers are superior (to sense objects); the mind is superior to the sense organs; the intellect is superior to the mind. Whereas the one who is superior to the intellect is He (ātmā).” (BhG 3.42) Continue reading →
Q: How do you explain two enlightened people (in the advaitic sense) that have different teachings? For instance, I think someone like Greg Goode and Swami Dayananda would disagree on many things despite both arguably being enlightened. For example let’s take Greg’s essay on idealism (http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/teachers/idealism_greg.htm).
I don’t think Swami Dayananda-ji will agree with the core position that an object doesn’t exist unless perceived. In fact I have asked Swami Tadatmananda this question (in the form of ‘does a rock exist before someone sees it?’) and he answered in the traditional sense saying that it does. From your point of view does this still fall under the umbrella of differences in teaching style? I also believe we could get a debate between the two on the topic of Ishvara and freewill. Continue reading →
Q: For years now I’ve been severely depressed and it doesn’t seem to be changing. What led me to Advaita, I think, was the intense desire to know what I guess I can only meaningly refer to as God.
I read a lot about how we are not our bodies and how if we can be aware of something, then that ‘something’ cannot be us. I understand all this. There is a formless awareness that appears to be prior to everything, prior to my body, my mind and the suffering of depression, I can see that.
One book I’ve read, not specifically about depression, advises that we remain with that awareness, as that awareness that is prior to both body and mind. However, I find this difficult. The body and mind come out of the Self and thus must be the Self. Beyond this the reasoning and experience of it gets quite subtle, but I’ll give it my best shot. Yes, there is an awareness that is before the mind and body, something that you might call the Ultimate subject, but It is only apparent because of the body and mind – without the body and mind, the Self wouldn’t know itself. Continue reading →
In the comments following the Question and Answer on the subject of mAyA and Ishvara – Q.325, Peter and I began the following exchange on the subject of ‘reflection of Consciousness’ (between the <<< >>> marks below). We continued this discussion off-line. Now that this has been concluded, we are posting the discussion so that others may, perhaps, benefit from the clarification that ensued.
PB: 2. The easiest misunderstanding to resolve is the distinction between ‘original consciousness’ and ‘reflected consciousness’: there is NO difference. To explain this we are given the analogy of light. Any opaque object is seen because it reflects light. One can say that the light reaching our eyes from the object is ‘reflected light’. But what is the difference between ‘reflected light’ and ‘original light’? There is no difference: light is light. ‘Reflected light’ is merely the name given to ‘original light’ seen together with a reflecting medium (the object). In the same way, ‘reflected consciousness’ is the name given to ‘original consciousness’ seen together with the reflecting medium of the perceptible gross and subtle universe. ‘Original consciousness’ is given the name Brahman. Continue reading →
It is extremely difficult to accept that what we see, what we experience, what we take to be real is not quite real. Even Swami Dayananda wrote of his utter shock on realising that the solid universe is made up of nothing but words and meanings. I personally remember the first time I saw his demonstration of close-up magic when he held up a clay tea cup in the meeting hall, one hot afternoon in his Gurukulam in Anaikatti. “What am I holding?” he asked and then answered for us: “You say cup, I say clay. Tell me which bit of this is cup? My fingers touch clay, the weight of what you call cup is the weight of clay. The feel of the cup is the feel of clay. The colour of the cup is the colour of clay. Where is the cup? Is it on the clay? If it is I can remove it. Maybe it is in the clay?” In this way, as we watched, the thing called ‘cup’ vanished in front of our very eyes. ‘Cup’ is nothing but the name given to a particular form of clay for the sake of distinguishing it from other things made of clay and all other things as well.
Now extend this to all objects that can be traced back to a common cause: even science supports this view. Then at each stage we just have names: Shirt is the name of a form of material, material is the name of yarn, yarn of cotton, cotton of fibres, fibres of atoms, atoms of sub-atomic particles, etc till we arrive at a single cause. (Vedānta śāstram goes one step further than science in stepping from the perceptible to the non-perceptible world.) Continue reading →