Q. 392 – Traditional lineages

Q: Are there major differences between the lineage of Swami Sivanda and Ramakrishna Paramahamsa? If i want to study the traditional vedanta which teachings/teachers would you recommend?

A (Dennis): If you want ‘traditional’, steer clear of Ramakrishna-Vivekananda etc – they are ‘neo-Vedantins’ and diverge significantly in some respects. Sivananda I do not know so much about  (except his Brahmasutra commentary is very good). I think his lineage may introduce elements of Yoga philosophy. I suggest you go for Swami Dayananda and disciples – you can’t go far wrong there!

Q: The only real question that matters “Who am I?” is also the major issue for the Ramakrishna lineage. Is their approach less truthful, and if so in what sense?

A: The bottom line of many systems may be the same. (Indeed, MUST be the same for any valid system, of course). It is how they guide the seeker to that understanding that is important. But, for neo-Vedanta, attaining nirvikalpa samAdhi is attaining mokSha. This cannot be true (says the traditionalist) because NS is an experience in time. We are already free, perfect and complete; the problem is that we do not know it.

Q: A quote from Nisargadatta: HOW CAN WORDS EXPLAIN THAT FROM WHICH WORDS ORIGINATE? Then what about all the spoken or written words from the Vedanta teachers?

A: It is not possible to speak about reality. All objectification is simply name applied to form.  If you have ‘Book of One’ 2nd edition, read ‘Description of the Self’, P. 249. You lead up to it, using adhyAropa-apavAda and ultimately make the intuitive leap as in bhAga-tyAga-lakShaNa. You know what brahman is because you are That.

dhyAna and samAdhi


dhyAna and samAdhi are quite fascinating, pretty alluring and romantically inspiring terms for an aspirant on the spiritual path. They are almost always spoken in a tone that creates an awe. They sound mysterious, other worldly and ethereal. Many stories are told in the Purana-s about highly revered Sages lost in deep meditation or samAdhi to the extent that they were unaware of their own body being buried in heaps of sand or eaten away by critters and crawlers. Hair-rising narratives too are often reeled out about the powers that dhyAna and samAdhi lead one to – clairvoyance, multiple accomplishments (aNimAdi siddhi-s), infinite longevity (ciranjIvatva), visitations to subtler worlds inaccessible to normal human beings and so on. There is hardly a spiritual Guru who does not harangue about the glories a seeker will be bestowed through practicing dhyAna and samAdhi. Some teachers would even make these as a pre-requisite before any true ‘knowledge’ is imparted. As a result, the words dhyAna and samAdhi acquired varying meaning. Teachers too historically used or interpreted them in different ways. We shall attempt to take a synoptic view particularly from a Non-dual perspective what these terms connote and their role and relevance for a seeker who has adopted the jnAna mArga (The Knowledge Path) in his/her pursuit of liberation.

The write up is structured as a Power Point Presentation downloadable as a pdf file at: http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/downloads/dhyAna_samAdhi.pdf. Continue reading

The Brahman Experience

Let’s discuss the possibility that Brahman is nityaptasvarupa, no exceptions. Let’s talk about what it means to truly live from a place where Brahman is all that is – our ideas, experiences, loves, violence. I’ll start with some of the comments made on a previous post, ‘Consciousness of Choice’, because let’s face it, Dennis made some great points!

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My Tuppence Worth

tuppenceIt was over two scores and a half years ago. I remember an experience when I was living in that part of India venerated by the name AryAvarta, the holy land. The cows and other cattle had a right of way even on the so-called main roads, affectionately christened ‘M.K. Gandhi Marg’ ‘P.C. Chatterji Panth’ or some such tongue twisters by the locals. The citizens or rather the bodies of the inhabitants have a natural agility and ability to automatically adopt all the tricks of an expert contortionist in walking on the road avoiding the animals or their heaps and spurts of fragrant fresh just-in-time  deliveries – made, as though, just for you.  When you are all focused on keeping your balance as you never know where your next step may have to land, a hearty greeting jolts your auditory senses. You take time to locate the source of that sound, because there is obviously no face visible nearby. You see at a distance a half raised single hand, as a mark of showing respect for you. Adept practitioners of Zen may not know the clap of a single hand, but every one over there knows a salutation by one hand. Their shout says ‘su prabhAtaM,’ a literal translation for “Good Morning.” Continue reading

Reflections on Body-Mind and Liberation

shankaraThere has been much healthy debate recently on the Advaita Vision Blog about Liberation, who or what is a jnani or jivanmukta, and what it means to follow traditional Advaita. The theme of this post is that we cannot resolve such questions without first gaining a clear understanding of the body-mind and its role in the context of Liberation. What follows are some reflections inspired by a spirited discussion with Ramesam, with due credit to him for stimulating many of the thoughts below. Any errors or possible misunderstandings are entirely my fault. Or perhaps not, since “Words fall back from it.” Continue reading

Q. 373 – Ego, soul and mithyAtva

Q: For the last few years I have been trying to develop a manuscript detailing a working model which marriages the teachings of Advaita Vedanta with contemporary research on NDE or “Near Death Experience” and similar fields of inquiry. There are several questions I have, but for now I will only bother you with one: Is it possible the Atman does possess a “spiritual ego”?

 Clearly the culprit for the ignorance of our real self as the Self is the wrongful identification with the body-mind. Shankara explains the identification with the kosha-s perpetuates the illusion, which is nothing more than a superimposition of the kosha(s) on brahman helped by mAyA.

 The way I see it, our greatest enemy is the ego, the human ego. This ego comes from the mind and is maintained alive by desires. But I have many reasons to suspect there is also a “spiritual ego” present in the Atman, which similarly perpetuates the ignorance of the wrongful identification by the so-called discarnate “spirit soul”.

 The metaphor I have used is this: there is an actor in the “spiritual world” (the Atman) which wrongfully identifies with a spiritual ego preventing it from realizing brahman. This actor goes through an induced amnesia, after agreeing to play the role of a character in the Grand Stage of the world. This is the incarnation stage. The human ego is the combination of the spiritual ego – which carries the saMskAra-s and the vAsanA-s – plus particular influences on the personality traits caused by internal factors such as the brain/mind of the new body, as well as external factors such as family, society, education, etc. This is the embodied Atman as the jIva. Continue reading

Q. 370 – nirvikalpa samAdhi

Q: Should a person have compulsorily experienced nirvikalpa-samādhi in order to know that he has a mind which is prepared for jñāna? In other words, is experience of nirvikalpa-samādhi a must as a sādhana?

Responses from VenkatMartinTed, Shuka and Dennis

A (Venkat): Nirvikalpa-samAdhi is an experience of the absence of objects, for a finite period of time, which the experiencer eventually exits to re-perceive the world.  As it is not permanent, it is not real.  Any temporary experience that is witnessed cannot be a pre-requisite for j~nAna – since j~nAna is the permanent dissolution of the illusory I-thought.

“Abiding permanently in any of these samadhis, either savikalpa or nirvikalpa, is sahaja. What is body consciousness? It is the insentient body plus consciousness. Both of these must lie in another consciousness which is absolute and unaffected and which remains as it always is, with or without the body consciousness. What does it matter whether the body consciousness is lost or retained, provided one is holding on to that pure consciousness? Total absence of body consciousness has the advantage of making the samadhi more intense, although it makes no difference to the knowledge of the supreme.” – Sri Ramana Maharshi Continue reading

Q. 369 – mokSha

Q: What is meant by mokSha as a puruShArtha? (The answer should incorporate a definition of mokSha.)

Responses from Ted, Venkat, Ramesam, Martin, Shuka and Dennis

A (Ted): Moksha literally means, “liberation.” It indicates freedom from dependence on objects (i.e., anything perceivable, conceivable, or in any way experienceable) for happiness, contentment, or a sense of wholeness and completeness. And since it is our vain pursuit of permanent fulfillment through impermanent objects that is the cause of suffering, moksha also implies freedom from all suffering.

 Moksha is the essential purushartha (i.e. goal or end) that we are seeking, though in most cases not consciously, through our pursuit of artha (security), kama (pleasure), and dharma (virtue). If we analyze the objects we chase in any of these categories, we invariably find that it is not actually the object itself that we want, but rather the sense of peace and/or happiness that it seemingly provides us. Admittedly, the objects we seek to obtain in these areas are either necessary for our survival or enhance our enjoyment of life, but all are limited. And no limited object can provide limitless fulfillment. Thus, if we depend on these objects for our happiness, we doom ourselves to inevitable disappointment and certain suffering. Continue reading

Panchadashi and Prarabdha

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA(Another salVo in the ongoing battle over jIvanmukti, j~nAna phalam, pratibhandaka-s and prArabdha – see Knowledge, Action and Liberation and Knowledge, Action and Liberation – AV)

The following is an extract from Chapter 7 of Vidyaranya’s Panchadashi:

indra-jAlam idaM dvaitam achintya-rachanAtvataH
ityavismarato hAniH kA vA prArabdha-bhogataH

[7:174] Never forgetting that the world is unreal and its cause unascertainable, the wise man stands secure from harm in the midst of the enjoyment of his fructifying karma.

nirbandhas tattva-vidyAyA indra-jAlatva-saMsmRRitau
prArabdhasyAgraho bhoge jIvasya sukha-duHkhayoh

[7:175] The function of knowledge of the real is to promote (constant) remembrance of the fact that’ world is unreal; that of the fructifying karma is merely to provide the jIva with experience of pleasure and pain.

vidya-rabdhe viruddhyete na bhinna-viShayatvataH
jAnadbhir apyaindra-jAla-vinodo dRRishyate khalu

[7:176] The knowledge of the spiritual truth and the fructification of prArabdha karma refer to different objects and are not opposed to one another. The sight of a magical performance gives amusement to a spectator in spite of his knowledge of its unreality. 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.

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