What is the point of enlightenment? – Q.339

Q: I have seen from articles and questions on your website that Brahman cannot ‘know’ or ‘do’ anything; that it (as if) acts and knows only through the body-mind of the jIva. What I would like to know is: why would anyone want to become enlightened if this means the end of rebirth, and ‘becoming’ one with Brahman? OK, this may mean the end of suffering but does it not also mean the end of enjoyment? If ‘I’ (even though this is only a reflection in the mind) cease to exist (when the body-mind finally ceases to exist) on the death of the enlightened person, then there is no more experiencing of any kind for me as that person, and none for the Brahman that I (as it were) become.

 You will perhaps say that, as Brahman, I will still experience through all the other body-minds but this does not sound like enlightenment to me! And don’t I do that already anyway since there is only Brahman? In which case what is the meaning (and point) of enlightenment?

A (Peter): A: First things first: welcome to the world of one-way equations. Pot is nothing but clay, but clay is not a pot: clay is clay, it can be without potness, though pot cannot be without clay. Bracelet is gold, but gold is gold and does not have to take the form of bracelet, it could take the form of a ring or a cup, or the form of a raw ingot. Every wave is nothing but water, but water is not the wave, it is H2O. The illuminator of the world is the sun, but the sun has no desire to illumine: a thing becomes lit in its mere presence. Similarly, things are known by virtue of the mere presence of the light of consciousness, which is Brahman; enjoyment is by virtue of the mere presence of Brahman. Action too results from guṇas, Brahman’s manifest power, acting and reacting among one another, as is their nature. Even though Vedānta says Brahman is not the doer or enjoyer or knower, it nevertheless asserts that there is no doer other than Brahman; no enjoyer other than Brahman; no knower other than Brahman. This is the view from the relative, empirical world we live in.

 So to your first question: “Why would anyone want to become enlightened if this means the end of rebirth, and ‘becoming’ one with Brahman? OK, this may mean the end of suffering but does it not also mean the end of enjoyment too?” If the purpose of wishing for rebirth is to taste worldly enjoyments, then you cannot really appreciate how low on the scale of enjoyments lie earthly enjoyments. In the Taittirīya Upanishad we are told that 1 unit of human joy is that enjoyed by a young person in the prime of life, fit and healthy, possessed of strong mental faculties, amazingly good looking and incredibly well read, spiritually disciplined and ethical, and in possession of untold wealth – that takes a lot of effort to imagine and even more to achieve. But the joy of Hiraṇyyagarbha is 1 followed by 20 zeros 100,000,000,000,000,000,000 times the unit of human joy!! A scale of joy so inconceivable that we’re prepared to stick to the poverty we know. The Upaniṣad tells us that this joy is available to a ‘follower of the Vedas, unaffected by desire’. Being ‘unaffected by desire’ is only possible for one who knows him or herself to be no different from Brahman. This knowledge is enlightenment. So if happiness is what you seek then self-knowledge is the most powerful way for you to go.

 Now to your second question: “You will perhaps say that, as Brahman, I will still experience through all the other body-minds… don’t I do that already anyway since there is only Brahman? In which case what is the meaning (and point) of enlightenment?” It has already been established that Brahman is not the enjoyer or experiencer, so the idea that one will ‘still experience through all the other body-minds’ is not accurate. Experience is a personal matter, restricted to one person at a time: your experience is totally yours and there is no example of one person sharing the experience of everyone else! By asking ‘what is the point of enlightenment’, and implying that it’s pointless without experience or enjoyment, it shows that you place enjoyment, kāma, as the paramount purpose of living. It is true that discovering happiness, the freedom from the pain associated with one’s erroneous belief that one is small and limited, is the goal of life. But, if happiness is born of experience it will pass and every unit of such happiness comes paired with its opposite. There is only one way of ensuring the end of misery for all time, in all circumstances and with all people, and that is to know oneself.

 Finally, to determine the validity of your closing assertion that for the enlightened soul after death there is “either nothingness or more suffering through the body-mind of another unfortunate”, you will simply need to wait for two things: your enlightenment and your subsequent death. All else is theory. So get on with it, and don’t put off the effort to be your own true, highest self till you know whether living that Self is worth giving up the sense of smallness and incompleteness that passes for human life in the absence of that vision.

A (Sitara): Dear questioner,

Your question is based on misunderstanding the nature of enlightenment and of Brahman. So allow me to clarify.

 Enlightenment is for those who have understood that any kind of experience is time bound – it comes and goes – be it pleasurable or troublesome. What enables someone to want to leave behind all those pleasure possibilities that this earthly existence has on offer? It is the trust in what scriptures say, namely that everyone in fact is pure happiness by his/her very nature. And that the mere experience of happiness is but a reflection of the happiness that one is.

 So at this point the seeker stops seeking experiences of happiness and endeavours to know his/her true nature. This may take longer than seeking experiences of happiness. But on the other hand discovering non-experiential happiness will have lasting results – unlike experiential happiness.

(You might enjoy reading more about these two happinesses here: http://www.astro-sitara.de/essay_en.php?show=62 )

 Brahman is this pure non-experiential happiness. So enlightenment is recognizing oneself as Brahman. Brahman is I. Not the separate I, identified with body-mind-senses, but pure being, pure is-ness.

 This is difficult to conceive so one thinks of Brahman as a separate I, and only the separate I needs experiences. Because of this erroneous understanding of Brahman the Jiva might translate Brahman’s inability ‘to know or do anything’ as Brahman being somewhat impaired. You are right that Brahman neither suffers nor enjoys. Why should Brahman who is pure joy by nature, want to enjoy anything? Only the Jiva who considers himself as deficient of joy depends on enjoyable experiences. The consequence of not appreciating this is that the Jiva might quite logically conclude that Brahman needs him, the Jiva, as an instrument to overcome his (Brahman’s) lamentable limitation. This leads to the next logical question, why would any Jiva want to swap with Brahman. It may be logical but is based on a wrong understanding of the relationship between Jiva and Brahman.

 Wanting enlightenment is not a choice the Jiva makes. Everyone ultimately heads towards it just like any river heads towards the ocean. This is because everyone suspects in his/her very heart that he/she may be more than a limited being. At some point the suspicion that this could be so turns into the trust that this is so. Up until this transition, seeking experiences of happiness is the only choice there is for the Jiva. After trust has entered the Jiva’s mind he/she will start seeking his/her true self – and if lucky will find a teacher with whose help trust will turn into certainty, and the Jiva into a Jivanmukta.

A (Ramesam): This question sounds like an alarm that many of us perhaps should sit alert and take notice. Is there an overkill in promoting Non-duality by all those Gurus who find this to be a salutary vocation? Have we given the impression that it is a vendable commodity out there in the market competing with other products and goods for assured ‘happiness’ that a prospective customer would weigh its usefulness and compare its relative worth?  Perhaps some of us at least need to introspect on this.

Now I shall address the Questioner.

There are many ways the question can be answered depending on the context and the motives of the questioner. I shall briefly mention here some of the aspects and then expand on them based on the interest of the supplementary questions that may come up, if at all.

1.  There is a powerful antibiotic medicine, say, ‘Gentamicine.’  I do not have to take it simply because it is available and some salesman sings paeans about its efficacy. It is need based only. Similarly Non-duality is a teaching for one who is a ‘mumukshu’ having a deep and determined yearning for liberation. In the olden days, it is reserved to be revealed only to a highly deserving aspirant and that too only when (s)he comes up with a specific request for this Knowledge.

2.  Non-dual teaching does not make one as Brahman.  It only equips one with necessary tools to conduct an inquiry into knowing the Ultimate Truth, if one is gripped resolutely with a feverish want to find answers to the questions like “What is this world and who am I?”

3.  Yogavasishta tells the story of a Vidhyadhara King (Vidhyadharas are a type of Celestial being who are blessed with extra-ordinary powers). He enjoys life retaining his youth for several Kalpas (a Kalpa lasts for 4.32 billion earth years). Whenever he found that his energies were decreasing, he used to undertake remedial rituals and continued to enjoy life. But a time came when he was eventually fed up with the luxuries and joys and wanted to inquire into reality. He approached Sage Bhushunda (a Corvid Yogi) with questions on the purpose of this whole game of life and what was the real substratum Truth behind the apparent world. He was then given the lessons in Non-duality. The moral of the story is, a day will come in any person’s life, irrespective of whatever enjoyments he may be experiencing, he would hanker to know the Truth behind this apparent world.

4.  It looks from the way the question is framed, the Questioner has the idea that a man ceases to function after “Enlightenment.” But that is not correct. The joys and miseries in the life continue without any change. Enlightenment and Non-duality are not about changing the world.  What changes is the effect of changing world on you. One would stay unperturbed and serene even in the midst of all the ebbs and tides of life and its activities and proclivities. In short, one will live a more fulfilling life without being swayed by the vagaries of emotional ups and downs.

5.  If one understands truly and fully the Advaita teaching, one would know that ‘death’ is only a concept. It has no reality. The body, at cellular and molecular level, dies perhaps every moment and is reborn afresh. The true ‘You’ (‘I’) never dies. This understanding has to happen experientially (in the sense that it has to be more than mere intellectual or verbal level understanding) right ‘now and here’ and not when the body is irrevocably decayed and desiccated.  One will then realize that he/she is not a person confined to and contracted within a body-mind and that he is himself sat-chit-ananda. The world and the goings on therein will then appear to be insubstantial phantasmagoria to be just watched.

A (Shuka): The traditional qualifications prescribed for an adhikāri of vedānta is ‘sādhana catuṣṭaya sampat’. It is four-fold qualification, viz.,

1.       viveka (discrimination between nitya anitya vastu vivekaḥ – what is eternal and what is not).

2.       vairāgya (ihāmutrārtha phala bhoga viragaḥ – dispassion towards pleasures of this world and the worlds hereinafter, born out of viveka)

3.       śamādiṣadkasampattiḥ – six-fold qualifications which are:

a.       śama – control of mind

b.      dama – control of sense organs

c.       uparama – doing one’s duties and nothing else

d.      titikṣā – putting up with opposites like heat and cold, pleasure and pain,

e.      śraddhā – being open minded towards what the guru and vedānta say

f.        samādānam – single pointed focus

4.       mumukṣutvam – to attain liberation (at any cost)

I thought it was essential to have to background to answer this question.

1.       The first part of the question clearly shows that the questioner is not an adhikāri – if he is quite happy being tossed up between pleasure and pain, since that is what he considers “living”, he is most welcome to. Vedānta is for one who has clearly discriminated between the non-eternal happiness and comforts, thereby developed dispassion towards them, and having acquired the six-fold sub-qualifications, and pursues mokṣa as the only goal of his life. It is for this purpose that Kṛṣṇa used the term guhyam (secret) in many places in bhagavadgīta and warned against unqualified students reading it (BG18.67), for if someone approaches vedānta purely from an intellectual point of view, it will naturally lead to wrong conclusions.

2.       The second question arises out of non-understanding of the knowledge – don’t you see the paradox when you say that there is no benefit for the jīva after death? The knowledge that one gains in order to ‘become’ the jīvanmukta is that he was never the jīva (jīvātvāt muktaḥ). I shall rephrase the question to make the paradox obvious; it’s like asking “I understand that I was never the jīva, I understand that I was never born so there can be nothing called death, but still can you tell me what happens to jīva after death?” By asking this question, it is clear that the notion of jīva and death are still valid for the questioner even though he claims to have understood.

A (Dennis): There is subtle confusion of paramArtha and vyavahAra here, as I am sure you must have realized. From the perspective of absolute reality, there is only brahman even now. What is happening is that there is an appearance of duality – the world with all its separate objects and individuals. But the appearance is only mithyA. It is not unreal but its real substrate is the non-dual brahman. As one of these mithyA jIva-s, prior to enlightenment, because of Self-ignorance, you superimpose this dualistic image onto the non-dual reality and go through the ups and downs of saMsAra.

When this ignorance is removed as a result of shravaNa-manana, this truth is realized and you no longer believe that there is any separation (even though the senses still perceive that) – you know that everything is brahman.

Yes, this realization is in the mind and, yes, that mind is no longer reincarnated after death. But the whole process is now redundant. From the pAramArthika standpoint, nothing has changed. Before and after, you have always been brahman – complete, unlimited in any way. Nothing ever happens (to quote Papaji, I believe). From the vyAvahArika standpoint, you are now Ishvara if you like – all knowing, all powerful; rather than being bound by karma, you are the governor of the whole process. Neither pleasure nor pain affects you anymore.

Another way of looking at it is that, whenever you say ‘I’, you are constrained to a vyAvahArika view. Brahman does not say ‘I’. Brahman transcends happiness and suffering, samsara and enlightenment. In reality, all this is brahman. ‘Experiencing’ is a misunderstanding resulting from self-ignorance. Brahman doesn’t ‘know’; brahman is knowledge. Brahman doesn’t ‘enjoy’; brahman is ‘bliss’. Brahman is not ‘aware’ of anything; brahman is Consciousness. You (as a person) never existed; you (as Brahman) always existed and always will.


One thought on “What is the point of enlightenment? – Q.339

  1. It is interesting that a similar Question like the one at 339 has been raised at one of the Advaita related fora.

    Shri P. V. Sriram quoted in his Post of today a recent ‘sadas’ (Plenum) of eminent Vedantins held at Hyderabad, India where the issue was discussed.

    I quote :

    “Exactly this was the point of discussion here in Hyderabad at a Veda Sadas which was organized in Sringeri Shankar Mutt. The sadas was presided by several eminent vedic scholars like Sri Kuppa Sivasubramanya Avadhani, Sri Chirravuri Srirama Sarma, Sri Gullapalli Anjaneya Ghanapati and other purva mimamsa and uttara mimamsa scholars.

    The point raised was can a person who has craving for vishaya sukhAs be imparted the principles of vedanta. The conclusion by Anjaneya Ghanapati was *No*.

    For the person who is interested in vishaya sukha and who has craving for sensual / worldly pleasures, for them, karma kANDa has an answer and advices to enjoy the sensual & worldly pleasures as per the vidhi & nishedha of shruti and lead a *dhArmic* life. Artha & Kama, should be craved by hooking one’s mind to dharma. And the objective of grihasthAshrama is to enjoy these as per the compliance of dharma shAstra and veda.

    At one point of time, with the enjoyment of vishayAs, one is bound to get sick of enjoying these worldy pleasures. Then the process of introspection starts that how long this tuccha indriya sukhAs.

    Once this introspection gets ignited, only then the ambrosia of vedanta should be imparted to such a thirsty person. ”

    The above quote echoes the moral of the story I narrated at # 3 in my response.


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