Q: I’ve just started reading about advaita and Hinduism and wondered about the concept of loka-s. Are these physical or mental places or do they not really exist at all? What do Advaitins believe now, after 2000+ years of advancement of scientific knowledge?
A (Dennis): Advaita is a ‘gauged’ teaching – the teacher aims to address the present level of understanding of the student. This is why the seeker should always try to find a traditional teacher and should not merely attend random satsangs given by non-traditional teachers travelling around the world and probably staying in one location for no more than a week or two. A ‘course’ of traditional teaching may take a lifetime and would certainly be expected to continue for a number of years.
The way that it works is that the teacher provides an explanation that is suitable for the seeker at that time, and advances the latter’s understanding. Later, that explanation will be taken back and a more sophisticated one provided in its place. The methodology is called adhyAropa-apavAda. The teaching of loka-s etc is an ‘early’ one, and was aimed at Hindus who were used to worshipping gods, believing firmly in reincarnation and so on. Continue reading →
I occasionally get asked questions about reincarnation, in respect of advaita. And the sort of answer that I usually give is along the lines of saying that who-we-really-are was not born and neither will it die. Accordingly, it is really a waste of time to worry about if, why and how, the unenlightened jIva navigates through saMsAra.
But there is a whole section in the Brahma Sutra dealing with this somewhat abstruse, and seemingly ultimately irrelevant topic. It has some interest, and raises a few questions. So, for those who feel that they are doomed to return for at least another lifetime, here are some details about what the scriptures say is involved.
In the past, I had always assumed that the nature of the body into which a jIva is born in any given life is determined sometime between the events of procreation and birth. Not so! A rudimentary, ‘minute body’ is actually allocated at the time of the death of the previous body (according to the scriptures). This new gross body, along with the subtle and causal bodies, life forces (prANa-s), mind, sense organs and organs of action (j~nAnendriya-s and karmendriya-s), together with the accumulated saMskAra, then ‘travel’ (gati) to the next birth. Consciousness or chit does not travel, of course, since it already exists everywhere! Continue reading →
Proofs for adhyAsa
There are two shruti-based pramANa-s for adhyAsa , the first is ‘postulated’ and the second ‘inferred’.
Postulated The first takes an observed fact – for example I wake up one morning and find the road outside is flooded – and postulates an explanation for this – e.g. heavy rain occurred whilst I slept. Since I slept soundly, I have no direct knowledge of any rain but, without such a supposition, I have no reasonable way to explain the observed phenomenon. Other ‘unreasonable’ explanations may be put forward but the one suggested is the most plausible to the rational mind. In order to justify an improbable explanation, the more plausible must first be discredited. Since the observed fact can only be explained in this way, the explanation becomes a pramANa or valid means of knowledge. This pramANa is ‘perception-based’. as opposed to ‘shruti-based’. Shankara’s concept of adhyAsa is in fact a shruti-based ‘postulate’ since there is no mention of the subject in the veda-s themselves and it is in this way that it becomes a valid knowledge in its own right.
Just as this principle can be used to explain the flooded streets, shruti-based postulates can be used to explain that the ideas that we are mortal, doers and enjoyers are all due to error. For example, the kaThopaniShad (II.19) says ‘If the slayer thinks that he slays or if the slain thinks that he is slain, both of these know not. For It (the Self) neither slays nor is It slain.’ Also the gItA (V. 8) tells us that one who knows the truth understands that we do not act. We are not ‘doers’ or ‘killers’ or ‘killed’. Therefore, any statement such as ‘I am a doer’ or ‘I am an enjoyer’ must be an error, from shruti (and smR^iti) based postulate. Continue reading →
The Upanishads are the records of the “Knowledge” gained by the supremely dedicated Sages and Seers in the distant times through their incisive questioning and unbiased inquiry. They are written in the idiom and style of the day, at the same time taking a great care to see that the purity and pristine nature of the message is preserved for the posterity without getting mutilated by the passage of time. Hence, access to them was highly restricted. Their wording is very cryptic, symbolical and often too profound to be apparent to a casual reader. The Knowledge Itself, however, does not come with any tags of intellectual property rights or authorship claims. But expounding the real meaning of the text (called as ‘mantras’) demands expertise in many auxiliary fields like logic (nyAya), grammar(vyAkaraNa), prosody (chandas), orthology (nirukta) and linguistics in addition to a familiarity of the cultural milieu of the times. The Upanishads were transmitted orally to a closed group of eligible and committed students either by a father to son or teacher to disciple tradition. This method of imparting the Upanishadic Knowledge is known as sampradAya. In the absence of a Guru explicating them, it is impossible to make sense of them or understand clearly the meaning in-depth. Prakashananada’s interpretation of the svetaswatara Upanishad mantra IV – 5 following a dialectical approach of taking the thesis of the opponent and then providing its rebuttal to establish the eka jIva vAda typically illustrates the point made above. It is presented here as a conversation between an opponent and Swami Prakashananda Saraswati. Continue reading →
The discussion that follows stems from a comment I made on a recent article in the July NOW Newsletter. This is produced by a group in Australia led by Alan Mann and is a resource for the works of Thomas Traherne, as well as Douglas Harding, John Wren-Lewis and George Schloss.
I publish our email exchanges verbatim, as they occurred, below. Please feel free to add any useful comments!
Regarding your preferred definition of ‘real’ (“The definition of real which I prefer is: actually existing as a thing or occurring in fact; not imagined or supposed.”):
Does a chair exist? As a chair? What if I remove the legs and back; is it still a chair? Was it a chair a year ago, 10, 100, 1000 years ago? What about similar periods in the future? I suggest that it is not the chair that exists at all, it is the wood out of which it is made. (And the same argument applies to the wood over longer timescales.) A ‘chair’ is not real; it is only name and form of wood. Etc. ‘Things’ are not real; no ‘thing’ exists in its own right; it is dependent upon something more fundamental for its existence. And this goes on, all the way back to Consciousness.
The terms ‘Vedanta’ and ‘Advaita Vedanta’ are used loosely nowadays to describe teachings whose principles do not factually meet the subtlety within the profound truth of ‘One-without-a-second’ or ‘There is only the Absolute.’ If this principle is corrupted or compromised then guidance to the truth can be affected from the beginning, which may in turn lead to an incomplete realisation. Alternatively, we may only hear statements describing the highest (Paramarthika) Reality without any means at our disposal for approaching such a Truth.
Being the foundation of its teaching, the principle of Advaita need not be compromised in allowing for the ‘mundane’, empirical experience of the seeker and the questions stemming from his or her experience – the entire Vedic system naturally accounts for development at all stages of life and Vedanta gives an understanding of the exact status of the world, as we experience it, in relation to Reality. Continue reading →
Over the past few months, we have had several posts following which there were discussions in which some participants attempted to argue that knowledge was not the direct cause of enlightenment. Alternative suggestions have been that enlightenment comes with nirvikalpa samAdhi or that one has to pursue some course of action, such as asking ‘Who am I?’.
I argued that neither of these were the case; that ONLY Self-knowledge could give enltightenment. This is primarily because ignorance is the cause of saMsAra and knowledge, not action, is opposed to ignorance. And I said that I would endeavor to find quotations from scripture or from Shankara to support this contention (since some participants were not prepared to accept arguments from such as Swami Dayananda).
Below, I have compiled a brief list of some of those quotations and hope these should be adequate to convice readers that the above is the stance of traditional Advaita and it is supported by clear, reasoned argument. Continue reading →
It 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 →