in the Vision of Advaita Vedānta
by Wolfgang P., firstname.lastname@example.org
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Consciousness is limitless, anantam
What is ‘everything that is experienced’? It is the empirical universe, the world, jagat, which consists of everything we experience. Every object or content of consciousness is jagat, and this jagat is mithyā, depending upon sat-cit for its existence. Not only the gross objects, but also the subtle ones, like emotions, thoughts, concepts and so forth. There is literally no limitation to the possible contents of consciousness. Even when you say, “I found something that cannot be an object of consciousness” you have proven yourself wrong at the very instance, since this ‘something’ has to be already a content of consciousness to make the claim in the first place.
Is consciousness limited space-wise or time-wise? If yes, consciousness would be an object within space and time, having a certain location, a certain spatial and temporal expansion. But this is not the case. Consciousness is not an object within space and time. It is the other way round: Space and time are experienced in consciousness, so they are also mithyā. Furthermore, sat-cit is not limited spatially. Consequently, there cannot be two of them, otherwise they would have a spatial border. Therefore, sat-cit can only be one. If we apply this reasoning to time, the same applies. As time is mithyā to sat-cit, sat-cit cannot be dependent upon time. Hence, sat-cit is beyond time, which means it is uncreated, ajāti, and eternal.
We mentioned before that what is unreal is called asat. Think of ‘horns of a hare’ or a ‘square circle’. That-which-is-unreal, asat, by definition cannot be an object of cognition, since it is a paradoxically constructed concept. Even when we talk about a ‘square circle’, the words appear in our minds, but what is missing is the inner vision of an object that would fit to the words. Likewise, when we think of the concept ‘nothing’, the term is still an object of cognition, so it exists as a content of consciousness. We cannot find anything that is outside of consciousness, since the moment we think of it, it comes into being as a concept.
Therefore, no limit can be found to consciousness. No content, whether it be an abstract concept, a thought, an emotion or a sense-perception, is outside of consciousness, nor is it limited spatially or temporally. It is limitless, anantam, or ānanda. Ānanda is often translated as bliss, but it is more accurate to speak of limitlessness or fullness. Bliss implies a positive emotion. As all emotions have a beginning and an end, the nature of consciousness cannot be an emotion. Otherwise consciousness would cease to exist when the emotion fades.5 Reality, which we have already equated with sat-cit is anantam, boundless limitlessness. It is lacking nothing, so sat-cit-anantam is a complete, seamless totality. Everything depends on it, as we have seen before, so consequently, it depends on nothing. Hence, it is the Absolute, brahman. This is revealed in the Taittiryīya Upaniṣad:
सत्यं ज्ञानमनन्तं ब्रह्म
satyaṃ jñānamanantaṃ brahma
Brahman is fundamental (satyam), limitless (anantam) consciousness or knowingness (jñānam).
This sentence defines brahman. The three terms are not qualifying attributes of brahman, in the same way a lotus flower can have a certain color, blue or red, as a qualifying attribute. Instead they are defining attributes. Brahman is nothing other than satyam, jñānam and anantam. No object can be separate from brahman, otherwise it would not be limitless. It is the fundamental cause, satyam, everything else is depending on it, mithyā. When we look at the pot, we also see clay. Likewise, when we look at any object, we see brahman too, apparently limited by nāma-rūpa. As brahman depends on nothing, it is absolutely free, whereas what is mithyā is totally bound. The pot has zero degrees of freedom with respect to the clay. The clay has unlimited degrees of freedom with respect to the forms into which it can be shaped.
I am limitless consciousness, sat-cit-anantam
The self, ātmā, is identical to sat-cit, so I am sat-cit-ātmā. I exist and I am conscious. Taking the above statements into consideration, sat-cit-ātmā has also to be sat-cit-anantam, because nothing can be outside of sat-cit-anantam. Therefore, you, being existing consciousness, sat-cit-ātmā, are one with the boundless reality of sat-cit-anantam, which is brahman, the Absolute, because there cannot be a difference between sat-cit-ātmā and sat-cit-anantam. Otherwise we would have two kinds of sat-cit, which would have to be separate spatially or temporally. We have shown above that this cannot be the case.
When we analyze empirical and mental phenomena by using the reasoning of Vedānta, all objects that seem to have independent existence are unveiled as being mithyā. What is left is the subject, the self, ātmā. In this analysis all objects and dualistic concepts are traced back to their source, sat-cit-anantam, which is sat-cit-ātmā, the self. No object, emotion, thought, sense perception, or mental impression can be separate from it. How far away is the pot from the clay? The pot is nothing else than clay, so their distance is zero. Likewise, the distance between any object to brahman is zero. If there were a multitude of separately existing entities, each of them being satyam, reality would split into a plurality of monads, none having contact with any other. This is not our experience of reality, because we interact with the world around us. Consequently, it is the opposite: Reality seems to be crowded with a multitude of objects, but by inquiry we understand that the truth behind them is only one, limitless consciousness. Everything is depending on sat-cit-anantam or brahman, which is what you are, but it depends on nothing.
The purpose of Vedānta is to make one see this truth. The difficulties we are facing in life are stemming from ignorance about this fact. We take ourselves to be mithyā, depending on something: our body, our social status, our friends and relatives, our money in the bank account, our thoughts, our emotions, etc. Since we believe ourselves to be dependent on them, we feel bounded, insecure and vulnerable, because all of them could be lost. We try to improve our security by taking care of the body, increasing our social status and accumulating more money. But no matter how much we have acquired, a sense of insecurity remains. Furthermore, we take the world, jagat, to be independently existing, satyam. We assume that jagat has been there before our birth and will be there after our death. This belief makes us feel small and insignificant. But we have come to understand that it is the other way round: Jagat is mithyā, and our true identity, limitless consciousness, cit-anantam, is in fact satyam. Because it is satyam, by definition depending on nothing, it is absolutely free.
We have been ignorant about the nature of reality. Out of that ignorance anxieties, worries, and fears have arisen from childhood on and buried themselves deeply into our psyche. We are attached to what is mithyā: our body, our belongings, sense pleasures, beliefs, and so forth. And we are ignorant about what we truly are. You are sat-cit-anantam, you are the whole, on which the world, jagat, depends. The aim of Vedānta is to correct our confusion about the reality of the world and the reality of ourselves. A correct vision of reality is the most effective antidote to cure the afflictions of our psyche. This can be achieved by listening to the teachings with a prepared and open mind, śravaṇam, reflecting on the teachings until all doubts are removed, mananam, and applying the teachings, nidhidhyāsanam, until one abides in the problemlessness of an informed mind.
- This śloka is from Bālabodhinī, attributed to Śaṅkarācārya.
- See Swami Dayananda (2004, 2012, 71 – 93, 2013, 93 – 105), Venugopal (2012, 204– 220) and Brooks (1969) for further reading.
- The mathematically inclined reader will notice that both statements are only valid within Euclidean geometry.
- See Chalmers (1997) for an introduction to this topic.
- See Swami Dayananda (1999) for a discussion of this topic.
Brooks, R., 1969: The Meaning of ‘Real’ in Advaita Vedānta. Philosophy East and West 19 (4): 385 – 398.
Chalmers, D. J., 1997: Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness. in: Shear, J. (ed.), Explaining Consciousness: The “Hard Problem”. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 9–30.
Swami Dayananda, 1999: Ānanda. Saylorsburg, PA: Arsha Vidya Gurukulam. http://avgsatsang.org/hhpsds/pdf/Ananda.pdf.
Swami Dayananda, 2004: Mahāvākya. Saylorsburg, PA: Arsha Vidya Gurukulam. http://avgsatsang.org/hhpsds/pdf/Mahavakya.pdf.
Swami Dayananda, 2012: Bhagavad Gītā Home Study Course. Vol. 2. Chennai: Arsha Vidya Research and Publication Trust.
Swami Dayananda, 2013: Tattvabodhaḥ. Chennai: Arsha Vidya Research and Publication Trust.
Venugopal, D., 2012: Vedānta. The solution to our fundamental problem. Mumbai: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.
About the author: Wolfgang has a background in philosophy, sociology, statistics and software engineering. He got in contact with Advaitic teachings through Francis Lucille. It was James Swartz and Dennis Waite who showed him the profoundness of the proven methods of Vedānta. Currently he enjoys the presentation of Vedānta by Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswati and the lectures of Swami Paramarthananda Saraswati. Wolfgang lives in Vienna, Austria, where he organizes the local Bhagavad Gītā study group, accessible at http://www.meetup.com/AdvaitaVienna.
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