One enduring misconception about enlightenment is that there are different ‘paths’ for different temperaments. This is not supported by Śaṅkara’s vision. Below the argument for the single ‘path’ is presented.
1. All problems of life are due to an erroneous assumption about who one is. The solution to the problems of life, therefore, lies in correcting this erroneous assumption. Advaitins in the Śaṅkara tradition would agree with this.
2. Common observation supported by scripture shows that, when one’s aim is split, the goal is unlikely to be reached. So for seekers who are split between an avowed desire for self-knowledge and ‘compelling’ ties to the world in the form of emotional entanglements to people and places, unfulfilled duties, ambitions and the like, attaining the goal of self-knowledge is unlikely – their minds being impure (i.e. distorted by subjective likes and dislikes) or unsteady (unable to remain single-pointed for any length of time). The compelling pull of likes and dislikes that arise from duties and entanglements and ambitions is known as mala. And the flickering of the mind from one worldly demand to the other is called vikshepa. Continue reading →
What is puruṣārtha-niścaya? Of the two words, niścaya has a close English equivalent: certainty, conviction, unshakable clarity. So puruṣārtha-niścaya mean ‘doubt-free clarity and unshakable certainty’ about puruṣārtha. So what is this thing one has no doubt about?
Puruṣārtha is a compound made up of two words: puruṣa and artha. Puruṣa also has a close English equivalent: ‘person’, ‘human being’ (albeit with a lot behind it that reminds us of the true scale of what is indicated by the word – see footnote at the end).
Thus, so far, we have arrived at this meaning: ‘unshakable certainty about human artha’.
Artha is the last word that needs unpacking. Normally translated as ‘wealth’ or ‘meaning’, here it should be read as ‘aim or purpose’.
Puruṣārtha is the purpose of the human life. And puruṣārtha-niścaya is total clarity about what this purpose is – about what defines human life and drives human activity. Continue reading →
Q: I understand the advaita vedanta teaching – that we are what is perceiving, the consciousness in which the world, including our body-minds, appear. And that it is mAyA that makes us think we are a separate self. I can see this as one logical explanation of our experience. As many teachers say, there is nothing in our experience that can prove to us that there is a “real” world out there, since everything has to arise in consciousness.
It seems to me that an alternative, plausible explanation of our experience, is that there is a world which this body-mind experiences. However, even in this model, it is clear to me that there is no separation – that everything is inter-dependent, and that we are simply conditioned beings, programmed by our genetics and environment, and under the illusion that we are somehow separate from the world. But the truth is that we are just chemicals / molecules / energy quanta, the essence of which is the same in all things. As Krishnamurti used to say, you are the world and the world is you. This also seems to be more in line with the Buddhist emptiness / dependent origination explanations.
So the question is, do you find one model of reality more “provable” / plausible above the other? I presume you will say the advaita model, but why not the above alternative model I sketched out? I know that both end up at similar conclusions – that the ego is illusory and there is no separation, but it would be interesting to know if one is “truer” than the other. 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 →
Almost every one of us mostly live our lives mechanically. Having been born, we go through the mill of studies, higher studies, romance, marriage, kids, money, power, old age, disease and death. People who are in positions of power, rich people, and erudite people are looked up to by the society, regardless of how they achieved their ends or by what values they lead their lives. The paradox is that it appears both the classes of people, the ones who lookup and the ones who are looked up to, are satisfied with this pathetic state of affairs.
For some, the immediate unfolding future becomes the purpose; for some others, money and power becomes the driving force. Only a very few, stop to think about what is real purpose of this life? Why was I born? In a particular family? Into a given status? Endowed with a given intellect? Why did our lives take a certain turn?
As long as I believe in the absolute reality of the things around me, as long as I believe in the absolute reality of the body-mind amalgam, and further, as long as I believe that the body-mind amalgam is Me, I will be insecure and unhappy. Why? Because, if the world is real and this body-mind amalgam is real then threat and danger surround me: the treat may be to my life and wellbeing but, more often than not, my fragile ego is vulnerable to outside events and circumstances.
There is always someone richer or cleverer or wiser or more beautiful or more influential than me. In their presence I am unworthy and powerless. Poor unworthy me could lose all my friends to more attractive people, to cleverer people or to richer or more powerful people. I live my life dreading the moment that I will be found out to be a fraud or lose my job. Deep down I believe I am unlovable and that I will end my days sad and lonely. My fragile body-mind amalgam is not really up to the onslaught from the more powerful forces of the universe. I am not good enough to gain all the security I need to cushion myself from ‘the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ (as Shakespeare’s Hamlet puts it). My life (or the life of loved ones) can be wiped out in an instant by a monster wave or powerful wind or fire or earthquake, or a drunk behind the wheel of a car or a mugger or a mentally deranged person or by a tiny bug invisible to the naked eye. And even if the threat doesn’t come from outside, my very own biology can suddenly conspire to pack up: cancer, dementia, palsy, blindness, deafness, a blockage in the artery, stroke. Continue reading →
Q: I can see I need to live more austerely, and I am prepared to sacrifice much to bring about a more lucid and disciplined spiritual practice, but if I am honest, sacrificing those pleasures will have their cost and I will miss them. I would give up nearly anything to find a way forward, but I have heard that unless giving up pleasures is seen as so necessary it isn’t actually a sacrifice, it won’t produce any progress, making it pointless. I am confused. Living austerely definitely means sacrifice, and I could do it, but what’s the point in doing it if it won’t work? I hope I have been clear. If you could tell me what you think, I would be most grateful.
A (Sitara): Your emphasis on austerities and sacrifice indicates that you are influenced by a tradition other than Advaita Vedanta. While following dharma (an ethical lifestyle) has its place in Advaita Vedanta, it does not require austerities. It just means “be fair”, i.e. treat others the way you yourself would like to be treated. Also following a spiritual practice of meditation and prayer is thought of as beneficial for the seeker; but there is no need for much sacrifice here either, except for remaining with it even if sometimes inconvenient – having to get up a little earlier for example. Continue reading →
The dreamer asks the dream-Sage Vasishta about the planes of existence after death and about escape from all planes (kaivalya mokSha). He goes on to enquire as to how his own dream creation can be teaching him.
Q: ‘Experiential’, seemingly, is becoming a stumbling block in current discussions within spirituality and non-duality. There are the ‘experiential’, usually ‘anti-intellectual’ types (who deprecate ‘merely intellectual’, or ‘conceptual’ approaches), and those who defend the proper use of mind and the intellect, without denying the validity of experience.
Would it be possible, though, to dispense with either of the two concepts: ‘knowledge’ and ‘experience’?; they appear to overlap, practically being synonyms and, indeed, one can say “I know pain in the belly”, or, “I know such and such emotion”, “I know (I am acquainted with) life”, etc., without resorting to the word ‘experience’ – the word ‘acquaint’, conveniently, is derived from the Latin via old French: cognoscere, gnoscere. The other alternative would be to dispense with the word ‘knowledge’ and use instead ‘real’/'unreal’, ‘reality’, which is, precisely, sat/asat in sanskrit – and expressions using these terms are quite frequent, as everybody… realizes (‘is cognizant with’, then, would have to be ruled out). Just today I wrote in a comment that true understanding is an experience, but now I have my doubts. Ultimately, certainly, the only Experiencer/Knower is brahman/atman (though he remains ever unmoved). Continue reading →