Q.401 – Who is the doer/enjoyer?

Q: Who is the doer and enjoyer of action if not brahman and ego?

A (Dennis): In reality (pAramArthika viewpoint), there is no doer, enjoyer, ego or action. From the point of view of the person in the world (vyAvahArika viewpoint), you can use whatever ‘explanation’ you feel happy with! The usually accepted way of explaining it is that brahman enables the action to take place through the jIva (Consciousness is ‘reflected’ in the mind).

Q.395 – Person vs Consciousness

Just to keep alive the thoughts on eka Jiva vAda…

Q: If we are just a ‘Stream of Consciousness’, how is it possible to introspect and know Reality? It is akin to the dreamer knowing that he is dreaming while still being in the dream. Also, the SOC’s suffering is really Brahman’s sufferring as Brahman alone exists. So is the SOC doing Brahman a favour by realizing the “Reality”? That doesn’t sound right!

A (Dennis): What do you (think you) mean when you say ‘I am a Stream of Consciousness’? In reality, there is only brahman (or Consciousness if you prefer). So it is correct to say ‘who-I-really-am is Consciousness’. But, if you are saying such things as ‘I know’, ‘I introspect’, ‘I dream’ etc, then you are speaking of the person. This is the level of the seeming world – vyavahAra. In reality (paramArtha), there is no world, no persons. I, the person, may suffer but  brahman does not suffer.

Q: My terminology is wrong but I meant ‘the thread of consciousness within Brahman’ which seems to be creating this impression of a ‘Creation’. This thread is running within Brahman and there are feelings of suffering. Since nothing exists but Brahman, Brahman is the sufferer through this thread. Suffering need not be physical it could be just psychological or some other means of pain.

A: There is no separate thing inside or outside of brahman; there is only brahman. The concepts that you are using are only of value to the extent that they help you to realize that truth. If they are not helping, discard them!

Overview of Western Philosophy – Part 10

(Read Part 9 of the series.)

Rousseau and Kant

The reaction to the perceived unreasonableness of the empirical method was most apparent in the philosophy of Rousseau in France, which eventually contributed to the Romantic Movement, with its disdain for reason and advocacy of giving free rein to feelings and instinct. It was also taken up by those who instigated the French Revolution. Rousseau believed that man is inherently good but that the rise of civilisation, begun through the inequalities created in claiming ‘private property’ had corrupted us. Voltaire, on reading of his ideas, sarcastically commented that he was too old to start walking on all fours or searching out the savages in Canada. They also quarrelled over an earthquake in Lisbon. Voltaire saw in it a justification for questioning the beneficence of a God that would allow such a thing. Rousseau thought it served them right for living in seven-story houses rather than out in the countryside where they ought to have been. In any case, he did not think that we could use reason when talking about God; our attitude should be one of awe and reverence.

More dangerously, Rousseau was advocating democracy in his writings and questioning the divine right of kings. He believed that there should be discussion and agreement amongst the people to determine what he called the ‘general will’. This would then be formed into legislation which, once accepted by everyone, would be forcibly imposed. His best known work, ‘Social Contract’, opens with the challenging statement: “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. One man thinks himself the master of others, but remains more of a slave than they are.Continue reading

Continuing Reflections (on 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

Q. 393 – Idealism or Realism?

Q:       Advaita often uses certain language and metaphors, and these can often come across as sort of a “subjective idealism plus”. Where subjective idealism argues that the “outside world” is a completely nonexistent illusion produced in a mind, Advaita sometimes seems to say yes, that’s true – only, behind that mind that imagines the world is consciousness witnessing the mind, which is “projected” onto consciousness by the mysterious maya. In other words, Berkeley was right, only he didn’t go far enough. This leaves Advaita sounding like total solipsism, blended with hardline idealism. Consciousness, some sort of unimaginable void incapable of anything, is having a mind and a world “imagined” onto it by maya, which despite the incapability of consciousness to do anything is still a “power” of that consciousness. (Of course, this is very much a conceptualization, taking these metaphors too literally and looking at these terms and concepts through a very Westernized lens. But this is often the way some teachings sound!)

      But in addition to the talk of all things being total illusion, I will also hear that Advaita is realist – that the universe is not a hallucination; that it is, in one sense, “actually there”; and that it is in comparison to the changeless paramarthika viewpoint that vyavahara is “unreal”. This position makes much more sense to me than imagining the universe to be some sort of magic trick.

      Now, I recognize that these explanations – both of them – are attempts to “point” at truth, and not a tidy description of truth itself. Ultimately, there is only brahman; there are no “illusory things” and no “real things”. But I’m far from truly grasping that yet, so I suppose my question is: which of these descriptions more accurately reflects the nature and relation of vyavahara and paramartha? Or are both illustrations only as useful as what they can communicate to a student? Or am I just getting way too caught up in concepts here? Continue reading

Q. 390 – karma and judgement

Q: On the subject of karma please could you explain who or what decides on the destination of the “stamp/soul/” to a higher or lower life form. It would seem to be a judgmental decision based on our behaviour so presumably cannot be “Self” which is unaffected and affects nothing?

A (Dennis): You have to distinguish between paramArtha and vyavahAra. The absolute reality is that there is only brahman – non-dual Consciousness. There is no world separate from Consciousness, no people separate from Consciousness. The world and people are mithyA. So, in reality karma has to be mithyA also; there is no birth, no death, no reincarnation, no one who acts and no one to be reborn as a cockroach.

Explanations at the level of vyavahAra are interim explanations for the benefit of someone who does not yet appreciate the above. At this level, there seems to be cause and effect and all the apparent scientific laws that operate in the world. Ishvara is the name given to the ‘entity’ of ‘brahman + mAyA’ who lays down these laws. But the laws are not operated by Him on an individual basis; they are simply the ‘rules’ that are necessarily followed by everything in creation (such as gravity, Newton’s Laws etc). There is no ‘judgement’ involved at all.

Wave and Ocean

The ‘ocean-wave’ metaphor is a potentially powerful one but is often misunderstood. Here are a few quotes pulled off the Internet from a Google search:

 “The waves emerge briefly as a separate entity; however, just as quickly merge back into the ocean of which it is a part. Us, as human beings, are very much like the waves of the ocean. We briefly surface and display a uniqueness that cannot be duplicated; however, in the end, we reunite with the Whole.”

 “Actually our existence is just like an ocean. You are a wave of the ocean. You may be the most powerful, most thunderous, most beautiful and most inspiring wave of this ocean. But in the ultimate analysis you are just a wave. And the destiny of a wave is to merge again into the ocean. One day your little wave will also merge in the ocean of existence. Contemplate on this and understand the reality. We all are simple and ordinary in front of this huge cosmic play that is going on.”

 “To explain this further, Babaji gave beautiful example of wave – the wave by itself has no identity, it has identity of wave only for a certain time.  When it rises it is known as wave, but once it merges back into the ocean the wave no longer remains the wave, it becomes the ocean.  We have the karmic illusion of different and separate identity.  When we go in, there is no difference, we are particles of that One.” Continue reading

Q. 372 – Superimposition and Memory

Q: What is the relationship between memory and superimposition (adhyAsa)? In the metaphor of rope and snake, we say that we fail to see the snake clearly, because of inadequate light – there is partial knowledge and partial ignorance. When we superimpose a snake on the rope, we are drawing on fear and memory. We must have seen a snake (or image of one in a film or book) before in order to be able to mistake the rope for one. Similarly, we mistake brahman for the body and the world etc.

 But what about a baby or someone who has no memory as a result of brain damage? Is there still superimposition in this case?

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

A (Ted): We have to bear in mind that the example of a rope being mistaken for a snake is an analogy, and as is the case with any analogy, the example is imperfect. In the example, the snake image is based on a previous experience of the mistaken perceiver.

 In terms of mistaking the body-mind-sense complex as well as the innumerable other objects that constitute the manifest universe for Brahman, however, we are dealing with something a little bit different. Whereas in order to mistake the rope for a snake, one must have previously seen a snake, the projection of the apparent reality (i.e., the manifest universe in both its subtle and gross aspects) is not based on experiential memory, but rather results from the mind’s ability to recognize the “cosmic blueprints” that abide in dormant form in the Macrocosmic Causal Body, which is personified as Isvara, and are made manifest through the conditioning that maya upadhi, the limiting adjunct of causal matter, puts upon Brahman. That is, the mind is an instrument that is designed or a mechanism that is “programmed” to recognize these forms and, thus, is able to discern their apparent existence within the cosmic soup of pure potentiality (i.e., the unmanifest realm or “mind of God,” if you will) from the data it receives via the perceptive instruments/organs. Continue reading

More on ekajIva vAda

Rather than add more comments to the ‘mokSha for All’ thread, I thought it better to make this a separate post. It is the same topic but here I posed a question to AchArya Dr. Sadananda of Chinmaya Mission, Washington, whom I have known for a long time. I have interposed comments in his response and his follow-up comments have been added in green.


 Obviously any statement about the ‘nature’ of absolute  reality can only be made from the jIva’s standpoint; i.e. an  ‘as though’ pAramArthika statement made in vyavahAra. Thus, any talk about a world is clearly a vyAvahArika statement;  aham brahmAsmi is an ‘as though’ pAramArthika statement.


Dennis – aham brahmaasmi is statement of understanding of the truth – it is recognition of that paaramaarthika state but expressed using the instruments available in vyavhaaha that is the BMI. It is not just vyaavahaarika statement about paramaarthika state. It is like when I say sugar is sweet – it is statement which may not mean much to a listener who may not know what sweetness means, but it means a lot to one who knows and is the statement born of direct experiential understanding – or aparoxaanubhuti. Continue reading