Trip to India – 2

As I wrote in part l of this Travelog, I never expected that I would be talking on three occasions in front of an audience and in three different locations. Before departing to India I had asked Sowmya (a 29 years old MD and accomplished Advitist) what could I talk about if the occasion arose, assuming that there would be at least one presentation I should be making. Sowmya told me that the topic  could be the article I wrote (published serially in Advaita Vision in 2017) in defense of SSSS (‘Swamiji’ henceforth) which took me so long to write – 16 pp long vs. the 40 pp of the article by Ramakrishnan Balasubramanian. Continue reading

samAdhi (part 1)

Experience versus knowledge – a brief look at samAdhi

I do not know an awful lot about neo-Vedanta. The term is generally applied to the teaching ‘introduced’ by Swami Vivekananda and carried on by the disciples of the Ramakrishna movement. There has been much written on this topic (which I have obviously not read!) and those who are interested will know that there are many contentious issues. Refer, for example to the book ‘Neo-Vedanta and Modernity’ by Bithika Mukerji, which may be read or downloaded at

However, one aspect that I am aware of is that neo-Vedanta claims that enlightenment is attained through the experience of nirvikalpa samAdhi. They also insist that Shankara himself stated this, whereas what I would call ‘traditional’ Advaitins believe that Shankara’s teaching was that it is self-ignorance that obscures our understanding of the truth and that only self-knowledge can remove it. Thus, one of the key issues around the topic of neo-Vedanta is that of experience versus knowledge. Accordingly, at the risk of inciting acrimonious discussions (!), I would like to look briefly at this assertion that samAdhi is a sine qua non for enlightenment. Continue reading

Sanskrit: language of the gods part 1


I am in the process of reviewing old material relating to Advaita Academy as part of my background research for a 2nd edition of Back to the Truth. There are a number of essays, blogs and book reviews by myself and others which I will be reposting here over the next few months (they can no longer be found on-line at present). Here is the first of these – a two-part essay by Peter Bonnici, explaining why Sanskrit is so valuable and why a qualified teacher is necessary. Dennis

Sanskrit: language of the gods – Peter Bonnici

There are many who declare themselves to be students of advaita vedAnta but do not see the value in pursuing the study of texts in Sanskrit as they believe that the proliferation of translations and commentaries on texts like the Upanishads and Bhagavad GIta available in native languages are sufficient. Then there are those who have a working knowledge of Sanskrit who feel that, armed with a dictionary and other necessary tools, they can arrive at the meaning of texts by themselves.

Both are missing something, and for the same reason: namely, the enormous expressiveness, subtlety and flexibility of the language to express the precise meaning that the speaker or writer wishes to convey. (Most of the valuable teaching of advaita was passed on orally and the written form came later.) Not only is one missing out the subtlety of meaning by side-stepping the language, but one can also be lulled into a false sense of security by the book knowledge one has. An example of this can be seen when one compares translations. Here are three translations of the first verse of shankara’s DakShiNamUrti Stotra:

Continue reading

Trip to India

Trip to India – l

(Don’t expect here a sequel to ‘A Search of Sacred India’, by the well-known author Paul Brunton)The thought of going to India came to mind – despite my advancing age and unsteady gait- through the contact with a user of Quora with whom I had been relating quite well through that medium. There are a number of such users who are either followers of the great Vedantin of the past Century, Shri Satchidanandendra Saraswati, or acquainted with his writings. Through that contact I learned that two Swami-s who took care of SSSS, one of them during the last 16 years of his life and the other during the last year (1975) were still alive and living in Bangalore, the city where my contact, Sowmya, lives (there must of course be other close followers of that sage in other areas of India, but we are now talking about Bangalore (or Bengaluru, as recently renamed) and some of the people who live there. With the indispensable help and support of my wife, we took to India without thinking it twice. Continue reading

Q.464 Laws of nature

Q: Are the laws of nature eternal? From a scientific viewpoint, consciousness is epiphenomenal and so is fundamentally governed by laws known to science.  If the laws of nature (not the parameters e.g strength of gravity, speed of light etc) are eternal and unchanging then aren’t they nityam and therefore fundamentally ‘real’?

There is a section of the responses to Q.436 (Ishvara and the existence of fossils) where you suggest (I think) that from a vyAvahArika level, time and causation are real. Just wanted to be clear that from a pAramArthika level, space/time and causation are all unreal?

Note: there are some interesting views on time by quantum physicist Carlo Rovelli ( – it seems even from vyAvahArika level one could potentially argue that time is illusory.

A: Everything relating to the empirical universe is mithyA. The nature of the teaching of Advaita is adhyAropa-apavAda, meaning that an explanation is given appropriate to the current level of understanding of the seeker but superseded as their understanding grows. The ‘laws’ of nature are said to be governed by Ishvara but, ultimately, the laws and Ishvara Himself are mithyA. In reality there is only brahman. So, no, the laws are not eternal and not ‘real’. And, yes, you are correct: time and causation also fall into this category (real from the vyAvahArika standpoint but mithyA from the pAramArthika). You must note, though, that mithyA does not mean ‘unreal’ or ‘illusory’; it means that it depends upon brahman for its existence – and brahman is of course real!

Your link sounds interesting; I will have to try to find time to read it.

The names of Brahman

You do not have to have been studying Advaita for very long to know that the words Atman and brahman both refer to the non-dual reality (even if are not yet convinced of this reality). After all, one of the four, particularly well-known mahAvAkya-s is ‘ayam Atam brahman’ – this Atman is brahman.

In fact, we have to expand this vocabulary. Atman usually refers to jIvAtman – what is sometimes (erroneously) called the ‘embodied’ Atman or even the ‘soul’. Also frequently encountered is the term ‘paramAtman’, and this refers to Ishvara, or saguNa brahman – that aspect of brahman which ‘manifests’ as the world, using the ‘power’ of mAyA. It is to be differentiated from the ‘real’, nirguNa brahman which is indescribable, unthinkable, infinite, unlimited etc. and is the ‘Absolute’, non-dual reality. (Note that paramAtman is often translated as ‘supreme Self’, and it might be thought that this means nirguNa brahman. But, if we are in the context of doing something in the world – being the ‘inner controller’, ‘witnessing’ or ‘perceiving’ or ‘creating’ – then it has to mean Ishvara, saguNa brahman, since nirguNa brahman does not do anything.)

Once you are much more familiar with the individual scriptural texts, you will know that sometimes these words are used almost interchangeably. For example, in his bhAShya on the Brahmasutras, Shankara uses the word ‘brahman’ throughout to refer to both nirguNa (brahman) and saguNa (Ishvara) – he expects that, by the time you reach this text (having studied all the major Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita), you will know what he is talking about in each individual case! Continue reading

Q.463 Individual consciousness

Q: Dennis, I have deep question that in fact no one can answer to me. I can accept that I am consciousness in which appearances take place that are in fact manifestations of my own consciousness. I can accept that unbounded universe of my consciousness is in fact my consciousness. This phenomenal universe exists in my waking state and disappears in deep sleep.

I am consciousness all the time. It is OK and understood. BUT I also understand that all these experiences and states belong to ONLY MY INDIVIDUAL CONSCIOUSNESS.
I mean that others have other experiences. They have their own phenomenal universes, their own states in their own consciousnesses! And I have no access to them.

There is existence of many various individual consciousnesses perceiving various things. So can we say that there is no SINGLE Absolute I and no SINGLE consciousness?

A: All problems of understanding in this sort of question arise because of a confusion between ‘absolute reality’ and the ‘apparent world’.

You begin by saying that “I have a deep question“. This ‘I’ refers to the mind of the person (Fred) in the world. All these things – mind, person, Fred, world – are mithyA. They have no absolute reality. They depend upon the absolute reality for their existence. They are name and form of the non-dual Consciousness. Continue reading

Vedanta the Solution – Part 56

VEDĀNTA the solution to our fundamental problem by D. Venugopal

Part 56 concludes the examination of the idea that enlightenment involves an ‘experience’ – this is a misunderstanding of the concept of anubhava. And there is an extended analysis of the ‘tenth man’ metaphor, showing how the mahavAkya-s can give direct knowledge of the Self – aparokSha j~nAna.

There is a complete Contents List, to which links are added as each new part appears.

1. Metaphysics – 2. Is Advaita a trap?

  • If metaphysical entities cannot be verified to exist, how can we say anything meaningful about them?

My position is that everything is metaphysical – cf. Is everything metaphysical?

(Originally answered in Quora)

So, everything that exists is metaphysical, including language and thought: sticks and stones, trees, all bodies, etc.; IOW there is nothing that is ‘material’ or physical per se (which is a pure abstraction, or a metaphysical theory*). Language divides ‘what is’, the whole of existence, into parcels having particular meanings which, having specific referents, are not purely verbal or conceptual (i.e. language constructions), but are based on particular experiences. The experiences are either sensorial, purely mental or intellectual (thought, emotions), or intuitive, transcendental or spiritual, that is, transcending the mind; these last being metaphysical properly so called, for example pondering about, contemplating the nature of the universe, of matter, time, space, the nature of life, of origins or causality, ‘subject-and-object’, ‘value’, consciousness, mind, the meaning** of ‘soul’ or individuality (plurality). Pondering about the nature of experience and what may be called nonduality is intellectual as well as metaphysical or spiritual – this is not a neat distinction; the scope is what counts here.

*Metaphysical theories, being the product of thought (and language), are metaphysical themselves, it goes without saying. Their import or thrust “in the scheme of things” is something else.

**‘Meaning’ (a word or concept – or question mark in the mind ), merges here with its referent, ‘the thing itself’, by an act of intuition or comprehension.


  • Is Advaita a trap?

Yes, it is a trap for individual mind – that is, the mind that considers itself a separate and independent individual, a doer and enjoyer. After usually many years of seriously studying Advaita (emphasis on ‘seriously’) with full force and dedication, it may dawn on that mind that the belief described above was actually a trap and a lie. Realizing this, by a stroke of magic as it were (so one might think without straying much from the truth), BINGO! you are free… free from the mind’s doubts, fears, hopes, projections and tribulations. You then realize that only universal consciousness (a.k.a awareness) is true, and that that is what You are —the quotidian mind has disappeared, become no-mind, that is, pure unalloyed consciousness.

Teacher and Seeker – Jan Kersschot

Q: One of the things that bothers me massively is that certain Indian masters are so popular that people start to worship them as if they are divine beings. I run away from that because I don’t feel comfortable while seeing that on YouTube. On the other hand, I talked with people who were on a retreat with such a master, and they had gained a lot of insights in his presence. They also experienced authentic moments of deep recognition and clarity. So, I am a bit hesitant about how I should cope with this. I feel I have a deep desire to devote myself to something or someone. I am attracted to go and see such gurus, but I also have some pride inside me. What would my husband and colleagues say if they would see me bowing for an Indian master? What is going on in these places?

JK: You see, this is a nice example to illustrate the difference between duality and dualism. Duality is the difference between the person in the front who is the teacher, say of mathematics, and his or her audience, the pupils listening to him or her to learn the basics of mathematics. From an outsider’s point of view, the teacher is standing in front of the classroom and the pupils are sitting in the rest of the room. That separation is duality. And it is totally fine. In spiritual circles, a similar situation may occur. There is a duality between the master on the one hand and the followers on the other hand. That is again totally fine, it is just a distinction made by the mind. And if there are a lot of followers, it is normal that the teacher is sitting on a platform so that everybody can see him or her. When a spiritual leader like the Dalai Lama gives a speech to the United Nations, it is also similar. And people can be touched by his words on many levels as well. Continue reading