Q1. Many advaita teachings suggest that on the absolute level of reality, there are no objects, no people, no selves, and many times, people will say that, ‘from awareness’ point of view, there is just awareness’… However, in my experience it seems that awareness has the ability to know finite objects because ‘I’ (awareness) am the observer of thoughts, feelings, and sensations (all finite objects). So how can we say that from awareness’ point of view there are no objects, when awareness is aware of finite things? To piggyback off of this, is there some way to differentiate between the witnessing position and the absolute viewpoint? because I think this is where I am really getting mixed up.
Q2. Why does it seem that awareness can know something finite when it is infinite? I’ve heard from certain advaita teachers that consciousness takes the form of the mind in order to know finite objects, but this confuses me because that would imply that awareness becomes the mind, but is also simultaneously aware of the mind. It seems a little far fetched in my opinion, but maybe I’m just not understanding it completely.
A: I never use the term ‘awareness’ for precisely this sort of reason. It is a term used by Nisargadatta and his disciples and causes much confusion. I only use it in the context of X being ‘aware of’ Y, in duality.
The non-dual reality in Advaita is called Brahman, strictly speaking. Being non-dual, it has no ‘attributes’ If it had the attribute X, this would mean that it could not be ‘not-X’, which would then negate the fact that Brahman is said to be unlimited or infinite (anantam). You might find the 3-part post beginning https://www.advaita-vision.org/satyam-gyanam-anantam-brahma/ useful.
Following an extended, off-line discussion, I have added a new sub-section to Volume 1 of my next book, ‘Confusions in Advaita Vedanta’ and I am posting this below. I am currently in the process of editing the proof copy of the book and it will be published by Indica Books in Varanasi, hopefully in 2022. Details will, of course, be provided as soon as it is available. It will be printed in hardback and paperback but unfortunately not in electronic format.
As Sureshvara puts it in his Naiṣkarmya Siddhi (1.73):
“And tell me what possible cause could there be for action on the part of one who is established in the Absolute and has become everything, both individually and collectively, not seeing anything as other than himself.” (Ref. 7)
14 Bhedha-abhedha-vAda Bhedha-abhedha-vAda is the doctrine of difference in identity, i.e., Brahman and jIva are both different and identical. Brahman is homogeneous, one total. It becomes plural by undergoing real differentiation to form the world and individual jIvas. More importantly, both the total and plural are Satya (Real).
Refutation In verse 78, the AchArya refutes: “The doctrine that the Absolute is known through a conjunction of knowledge and action is difficult to maintain in the case of those whose Absolute is not devoid of differentiation” [Translation, AJ Alston]. He asks a bhedha-abhedha-vAdi: whether Brahman and jIva are identical or are different and then proceeds to establish the invalidity of the possible answers.
1 Suppose the answer is that they are identical. In that case, nescience could be the only reason for the jiva not realizing the truth of its identity with the Brahman. As knowledge alone removes the nescience, action is useless in this regard.
2 Suppose the answer is that they are different. If jIva is essentially different from Brahman, logically one cannot become another. No sAdhanA (practice), e.g., karma, or knowledge, or their conjunction can convert jIva into Brahman. It means that moksha is impossible. “Even supposing there were some causes that could make them identical, one could not attain the nature of the other without undergoing destruction” [AJ Alston]. It needs some explaining. That the jIva attains Brahmanhood and also retains the jIvabhAva is not possible because it is finite and Brahman is infinite. Even if, hypothetically, it does so, there will be no liberation since the jIva retains the jIvabhAva.The alternative that the jIva attains Brahmanhood and drops the jIva status does not serve the purpose because there will be no jIva. In Advaita, a jIva does not become Brahman. It is already Brahman and (re)claims Brahmanhood by dropping the notion:‘I am jIva’.
Q: I would like to tell you about an experience I had recently.
I was walking the park and suddenly everything became clearer before my eyes and I was astonished I was like “ah….” in those few moments everything was myself and I was everything. I was the pavement I was walking, the trees, the bushes, the fences and the whole space was filled with myself without slightest gap like water fills a sea. I was everything and everywhere. I was omnipresent and all pervasive. I didn’t have a specific location as I normally experience with out body a specific location. At that very moment of experience I asked myself “what am I?” The answer very clearly and immediately dawned in me “peace, consciousness and bliss” it was an incredible experience of peace and awareness. It left a profound peace and awareness in me that since then all my desires have disappeared and I am in total peace all the time and nothing however good or bad from the outside moves me any longer.
Is this the experience or awareness of the Atma?
A: This is not really a question that is amenable to a short answer. There is a lot about it in my next book (‘Confusions in Advaita, Vol. 1’).
The short answer is ‘no’. You cannot ‘experience’ Atman. Experience requires an experiencer and a thing experienced – and that would be duality. You could also say that anything you experience cannot be Atman. You are Atman – the conscious experiencer – and anything experienced must be anAtman. But you might also say that, since reality is non-dual, there is only Atman-Brahman. Therefore, whatever you experience must also be Brahman.
Enlightenment is the intellectual realization of the truth of all this. It requires mental purification and then a process of listening to the teaching from a qualified teacher, clarifying any doubts through questioning and then a period of mentally going over all of this until it is clear and certain.
But your experience is not to be denigrated. It should serve as an incentive to investigate all of this properly!
10 Is moksha attained by means of every karma or by all the karmasput together? A Vedantin asks pUrva paksha, “whether every Vedic karma will lead to liberation or all the karmas put together will give liberation?” If every karma can give liberation, all other karmas become redundant. Then, why should the Veda prescribe so many karmas? If moksha results through all the karmas put together then all karmas prescribed in the scriptures will have to be done to attain moksha. But no individual can do all the Vedic karmas for the reason that different Vedic karmas are prescribed for different varnAsramas. This would mean that moksha will not be possible for any person. A suggestion that the performance of all karmas prescribed for a particular varnAshrama will give moksha is unpractical. The categories of karmas performed by people of different varnAshramas will be different yet all will result in moksha. It would imply that moksha sAdhanAs can be different and if sAdhanAs are different, sAdhyAs also will be different. Results are different for different karmas is an accepted principle. On the other hand, there is only one moksha. A suggestion that if one or all karmas cannot give liberation, then specific karmas could do so has no scriptural support because results for various karmas are indicated in the Veda and moksha does not figure there. A desperate proposal that some karmas for which no fruits are prescribed could work is devoid of any merit.
Samuchchay (continued from Part 2) 8.31 Knowledge is to be followed by action Advocate (K3) of this view holds that Self- knowledge arises in two stages, namely, knowledge through sravan followed by the knowledge through meditation. The sravan stage knowledge falls short of realization that is converted by meditation into realization and liberation. K3 also argues that even if knowledge arises at the stage of sravan, the common experience is that it gets weakened gradually with the rise of adverse emotions and ignorance takes over. Therefore, it is argued that knowledge acquired by sravan is not sufficient to destroy ignorance for good. It needs further support by way of karmas, such as meditation. 8.32 Refutation The Acharya does not agree. He says that proper sravan is sufficient to give liberation. No new knowledge is acquired by meditation. Mediation, etc, is needed for sAdhanA chatushtAya sampathi so that a seeker becomes an adhikAri for Vedanta teaching. Sravana is the primary sAdhanA for Self-knowledge and liberation. All other sAdhanAs are subsidiaries. The AchArya is firm that once ignorance is gone, in no way it will come back otherwise it will be in violation of the maxim, namely, ignorance is beginningless. Then the question is why does one entertain adverse notions of duality, suffering after gaining knowledge? The explanation is that ignorance is not responsible for the emergence of erroneous notions. The vAsanAs are responsible. JnAna destroys avidyA, not the avidyA vAsanas. The next question is whether any karmas are required to cure adverse vAsanAs. No, says the Acharya. NidhidhyAsana, i.e., Vedantic meditation (not yogic meditation) is sufficient to firm up jnAna vAsnAs so that whenever adverse vAsanAs arise, jnAna vAsanAs should get automatically triggered for a good seeker and neutralize the opposite emotions. He need not deliberately invoke jnAna vAsanA. It is to be noted that nidhidhyAana does not give any new knowledge. Knowledge is full and complete at the sravan stage.
5.1 A sentence is useful if it suggests positive action. A statement of fact alone does not give the result. K2 claims that a sentence has to necessarily have a verb and a verb suggest action. If a sentence is without a verb, it is reduced to merely a jumble of words. As a verb is the most important part of any sentence, it is to be concluded that karma is the central teaching of any Veda-vakya. K2 argues that the sentences presenting Self-knowledge in the Veda do not constitute teaching. They are statements of facts without commanding any action and have no utility. For example, the statement, ‘water is available in the container’, is a statement of fact that serves no purpose. One has to follow up with the action of fetching and drinking the water. A mahAvakyaA does not have such a verb. Therefore, it does not convey the teaching of Veda.
While accepting that verb is necessary, the AchArya explains that there are two types of verbs, namely, action revealing and fact revealing, and depending on the contexts appropriate verb is to be supplied. In mahAvAkyas, ‘I am Brahman’ and ‘Thou art that’, the verbs ‘am’ and ‘art’ enable the mahAvakyas to convey information about the AtmA without applying any of the six modes of changes that action can bring about. Verse 98 of chapter 1 of NS says “Since the sentences like, ‘that thou art’, teach the existence of reality that is revealed as self-evident, not even gods can introduce new meaning into them other than the one they already possess.” [Translation A J Alston] Continue reading →
Veda exhorts that moksha, i.e., liberation from the cycles of birth and death is the ultimate goal of a human being. A person escapes rebirth when his karmic (samskAr) account is nil at the time of death. Advaita Vedanta claims that with the rise of Self-knowledge (Brahman-knowledge, Self is Brahman) samskArs become nil when the body is dropped thereby putting a stop to re-birth. Roles of action and knowledge are at the core of any discussion on liberation. The main source of what follows now onwards is the class notes of lectures by SwAmi ParmArthAnanda on Naishkrama Siddhi (in short, NS) of SureswaryAchArya (in short, the Acharya) available on the website of Arsha Avinash Foundation. There are occasional references from the translation of NS by A J Alston [second edition 1971]. 2 Three schools In Updesa Sahasri (Chapter 1 of Part II) ShankarAchArya emphasizes that JnAn, independent of karma, leads to moksha. In the first chapter of NS, the AchArya undertakes a project to establish that knowledge alone is responsible for liberation. The Acharya with all humility acknowledges that the subject matters of NS have already been dealt with by his guru, ShankarAchArya and he cannot make any improvement. Verse 6 of chapter 1 of NS explains. “This Book is written, “neither to gain fame nor to earn wealth nor deferential treatment but in order to test (metal of) my own knowledge at the touch-stone of God-realized sages.” [ Reference translation by A J Alston]. As a reader goes along, he will see that the Acharya deals with the topic from various angles. No wonder, he devotes more than 90 verses of a total of 100 verses in chapter 1 of NS.
Gaudapada makes it clear throughout his Mandukya-Karika that the ‘world is Brahman’ (he never uses this phrase as far as I recollect) only in the sense that the dream is the dreamer. It has no other reality – however nuanced by the word “relative”. For the jnani, both Gaudapada and Sankara write, this dream world is to be discarded, such that there is no further compulsion to action.
It is not just a stray chance or strange coincidence that the three articles — “Gaudapada on the Appearance of a world-Gaudapada on the Non-disappearance of the world-Gaudapada on the logical incoherence of the cessation of a non-existent world” — appeared in quick succession in these columns. I suppose the real thrust of what is being pointed to by them becomes apparent only if all the three are considered synergistically and not divorcing one from the other. After all, It is One Consciousness that produced them operating through three voice boxes! And what all the three point to is the “Heart of Gaudapada.”
I used the word Gaudapada in the title of this Post as a synecdoche. It stands for “The Teaching of Highly Revered Gaudapada Acharya,” who marks the beginning of the human-form lineage of Advaita Vedanta, as the following stotra honors the parampara (lineage).
नारायणं पद्मभुवं वसिष्ठं शक्तिं च तत्पुत्रपराशरं च । व्यासं शुकं गौडपदं महान्तं गोविन्दयोगीन्द्रमथास्य शिष्यम् ॥
श्री शंकराचार्यमथास्य पद्मपादं च हस्तामलकं च शिष्यम् । तं तोटकं वार्तिककारमन्यानस्मद्गुरून् संततमानतोऽस्मि ॥Continue reading →