Overview of Western Philosophy – Part 18

Note that this is the Concluding part

(Read Part 17 of the series.)

Nowadays, there are still large numbers of people who, even if they do not entirely accept all of the claims made by their religion and no longer recognize it as an authority for their everyday behavior, nevertheless pay lip service. And sentiments such as ‘love thy neighbor as thyself’ do seem to contain great wisdom, finding a balance between the two extremes given above.

But with all of our values no longer ‘supplied’ by religion, people have been forced to develop them for themselves. In the absence of expert guidance, the principal influence now tends to be the media and we have such ridiculous situations as the cinema’s cult of the anti-hero. It is now normal for films to conclude with the thief in some luxurious setting surrounded by money and women and no sign whatsoever of justice or retribution. It is acceptable for the individual to triumph over the perceived constraints of society, including its laws. And it is far more usual for the governments, police and similar bodies to be portrayed as corrupt, with ‘hidden agendas’ and secret conspiracies against you and me. And we have been brainwashed into cynically believing this to be normal.  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.394 – Becoming One

Q: The question about Ishvara, Atman, Brahman gets confusing once a person starts reading and gaining knowledge from different branches of religions or schools of philosophy. So to put my question as simply as possible: If we are all Brahman then how does Karma come into play for us as individuals ? (As technically it’s Brahman acting against Brahman.)

One other thing:

Let’s say there are two people ( You and Me ) who realises the truth and doesn’t need to take rebirth again, so once their body dies, their Atman merges back with Brahman. So once that happens, do both these people become one ? At the highest level, Yes ! Because they were always One ! But would a part of them both remain ‘Them’ ? As in a person who sent a mail and a person who replied to it ? If so, then is that ‘Part’ what we’d call a soul ?

A (Dennis): In reality there is only brahman, non-dual, formless, eternal etc.

The world (including the ‘person’) is mithyA, neither real nor unreal, depending for its existence on brahman. The ‘person’ is a mind-body, ‘animated’ by Consciousness via a ‘reflection’ of brahman in the mind. This concept, called chidAbhAsa, is fundamental to understanding the seeming problems you raise. See my essays on this subject: There is an article called “The ‘Real I’ verses the ‘Presumed I’ – An Examination of chidAbhAsa” – http://www.advaita-vision.org/chidabhasa/ and a follow-up blog called ‘Continuing Reflections on Reflection’ at http://www.advaita-vision.org/continuing-reflections-on-reflections/. 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.

Q.381 – Knowledge, belief and experience

Note: This discussion follows on from the last question on ‘Finding a Teacher’ (apart from the introductory paragraphs).

Many seekers think that the essence of enlightenment is ‘experience’; that they need to actually experience something for themselves before they can be regarded as enlightened. In line with this, they denigrate the notion that a teacher can convey whatever it is that the seeker needs by simply talking to them, answering questions and so on. Even worse, they feel, is the idea that enlightenment can be gained by reading a book!

Maybe the term ‘Self-inquiry’ is largely to blame for this misconception. Seekers attached to this idea think that subjecting their own experiences (perceptions, ideas, theories etc) to close examination is somehow the key.

Whatever is the case, such seekers are seriously confused and need to distinguish carefully between ‘experience’, ‘belief’ and ‘knowledge’. Below I provide a question and answer discussion I had early last year with a reader on this general subject. But first I would like to give an example from my own experience, which (for me) provided a very clear distinction between these three. (And I refer to this example in the question and answer session.)

The experience occurred about 30 years ago. You will have to bear with me as it takes a little while (and two diagrams!) to explain. Continue reading

Q.379 – Practice, Enlightenment and Reincarnation

Q: My understanding is that the purpose of spiritual practice is to purify the intellect so that it ‘reflects’ Consciousness without distortion. This enables the mind to recognize the delusion caused by ahaMkAra. This would mean that ‘enlightenment’ is a function of the mind. Is this correct?

If this is so, it would seem to mean that any ‘benefits’ gained from enlightenment would only apply to this body-mind, in this life. Is this so?

Scriptures indicate that one may have to undergo many lives before gaining mokSha, and suggest that fruits of previous lives accumulate to enable this. But, if enlightenment is an event in this mind, how can previous lives be of any benefit? Is there something in the mind that is ‘carried over’ into future births?

A (Ramesam): The most fundamental aspect of Advaita teaching is that an individual (jIva) is non-different from the Supreme Self (brahman). It follows, therefore, from this that a seeker is already of the nature of ever pure, all-knowing and liberated entity. As Gaudapada explains in his kArikA on mANDUkya Upanishad, by Its own freedom, brahman takes the form of an individual (and the world) and there is neither a creation nor liberation, neither a seeker nor something to be sought. Continue reading

Q. 375 – Conditions affecting next life

Q: I agree that Reincarnation, the next life, isn’t real. But it’s as real as this life…and, for most of us, this life seems pretty real, even if we know better.

And, as we all know, very, very few people are going to achieve Enlightenment (Liberation, Realization, Moksha) in this lifetime.

For the above 2 reasons, I suggest that Reincarnation is a reasonable thing to be concerned about and to ask a question about. That’s what this question is about. I’ll speak of Reincarnation as if it’s as real as this life seems.

 It’s been said that one’s next incarnation depends greatly on one’s thoughts and state in their last moments of this life. I hope that isn’t true, because no one can know what condition they’ll be in when they’re dying. I mean, we aren’t always in the best of condition when we die, are we.

 A person, at death, might be delirious, or heavily sedated at a hospital. What then? How does that affect that person’s next life?

 Has there been discussion, from theory, regarding how this life—and, in particular, a person’s condition in the last moments of this life–affect that person’s next life?

Responses from , Sitara, Venkat and Dennis Continue reading

Questions by Peregrinus

[Reference: http://www.advaita-vision.org/life-is-a-dream-the-world-is-real/#comment-3266 ]

Gary Crowley 2006Dear PtN,

Great Questions!

In providing answers to those very  questions, volumes have been written, several concepts have been floated and related downstream issues have been under constant debate from several centuries (if not millennia) ago up to even now . The positions taken are so extreme and contradictory to each other that protagonists of different propositions do not see eye to eye.  Unable to wrap their minds around the Advaita concepts and unconvinced by the Advaita models, some people (Tatva vadins – followers of the 13th century Madhvacharya) ascribe as much reality to the individual as to brahman but deny the identity of the two. The fights between them and the Advaitins are legendary. And there are notorious disagreements even within the Advaitins also on subtle details of the theories they propose as answers. Hence it is quite safe to say at the outset that there are no straight answers to any of these fundamental questions, as you may be already knowing from your voracious reading. Hence, switching on all caveats and disclaimers …… …… ……, I stick my neck out. Continue reading

Q. 366 – Self-knowledge – should we bother?

Q: At the end of the day, what does knowledge of self give us ?

It does not help answer the burning question of why the appearance/dream/mAyA that we are experiencing as humans or animals exists.

(I am not clear on this one but..) It appears that even though one attains knowledge of self in one janma, he/she can actually become a cockroach in the next due to karmic effect, i.e. we are not really liberated from the birth-death cycle.

The only benefit I do see in a janma where one attains knowledge of self is that such a person might lead a life devoid of misery in the mind as they sail through good and bad times (although they may still experience physical pain).

A (Sitara): In Advaita Vedanta we ask the question “who or what is the true Self” because we trust (in the scriptures and/or statements of those who claim to have answered this question for themselves) that the true Self is one without a second, meaning the true Self is all there is. So knowledge of the true Self, i.e. Self-realization, equals the realization that the perceived world is nothing but the Self alone. As to why it is perceived as world and not as the Self there are many answers within Advaita Vedanta and in Sri Atmanandaji’s Direct Path. I cannot sum them up in a few sentences, as they belong to an extended teaching methodology. I recommend, for a taste, to watch an interview with Greg Goode.) Continue reading

More short Q and As

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAQ: I’ve read something in Advaita about making meaning out of meaningless events. Are there any events to which meaning can be given?

A: You need to be a bit more specific here. But you are in any case talking about the empirical level of experience, not absolute reality. Time (and hence ‘events’) is within the former; it is not absolutely real. Similarly, there are no separate ‘objects’ (or ‘people’) in reality. Whether or not an event is ‘meaningful’ is going to be a subjective opinion! If you want my subjective view, there are probably only two meaningful events: when you commit to Self-inquiry and when you realize the truth! Continue reading