Q. 418 – When enlightenment occurs

Q: “You cannot experience brahman. But everything you experience is brahman (since brahman is all there is).”

1. Are both assertions true?

2. My understanding (based on both being true) is that you cannot experience brahman directly, but you are always experiencing it indirectly via vyavahara/mithya objects. Very much like Plato’s cave and Kant’s phenomena/numina, you experience shadows/phenomena … not the dinge-an-sich/numina which casts the shadows. 

My Advaita is rusty (shoving vyavahara and mithya together into vyavahara/mithya is probably not kosher) … but is the gist of my understanding right? Continue reading

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.

Q.412 Definition of ‘Enlightenment’

Q: In your writings you use quite often the word ‘Enlightenment’. In ‘Back to the truth: 5000 years of Advaita’ you give the following definition of “Enlightenment”:

“Enlightenment is a sudden recognition that non-duality is, has always been, and will always be the reality of our experience”

and further you explain:

“[…] it refers to the transition from the position of believing oneself to be a person – body, mind etc. as described earlier – to the position of knowing, that there is only the non-dual Self […]”

This is probably a pretty good definition, however the words ‘recognition’ and ‘knowledge’ here can be easily misunderstood.

‘Knowledge’, in the view of most people, including most of the spiritual aspirants, is a kind of intellectual knowledge or insight. As a result these people hearing the Advaitic non-dual doctrine usually just add to their ideas a new one: ‘I am non-dual Self, I am Brahman’, thinking that this is the required knowledge (or recognition) they have missed so far and that this is the Enlightenment.

Moreover, the term ‘Enlightenment’ is used by many religious/spiritual traditions/movements and is differently defined/interpreted by them; in fact there is a wide range of interpretations/definitions of the word ‘Enlightenment’. Further, many claim that there are stages of ‘Enlightenment’, saying that that there can be a deep or shallow enlightenment, full or partial.

Advaita defines ‘knowledge’ or ‘true knowledge’ differently and according to Advaita such an intellectual knowledge or mental recognition of non-dual truth is not the true knowledge at all. So such an ‘Enlightenment’ has relatively little value in Advaita spiritual system, being seen just as an intellectual understanding of the non-dual truth. From this point there is still a long way to the authentic realization of the truth, called ‘true knowledge’.

Taking all that into account I am rather against using the term ‘Enlightenment’ in the context of authentic Advaita teaching. In my view it doesn’t bring much clarity, confusing many. Why not use original Advaitin terms, which are meaningful, concrete, almost free of misconceptions and leave little room for interpretations?

Would you please explain if the term ‘Enlightenment’ has any origin in traditional Advaitic texts? Which ones, please give the exact examples. What is the original Sanskrit word which is translated into English as ‘Enlightenment’? Continue reading

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!

Continue reading

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