On the Seer and the Seen

  Quoting from the talk of an Advaita teacher on the message of the aitareya Upanishad:

“It is Consciousness that impels us to feel hungry. It is Consciousness that impels the food to let itself be eaten. Consciousness propels us to perceive the world and It commands the world to be seen by us. Our seeing becomes meaningless if there is no world to be seen. The appearance of the world is meaningless if there is none as the seer. Both are impelled in their actions by the One Consciousness.   Continue reading

Advaita – Traditional to Neo

Here is an excellent video from Swami Tadatmananda. It presents a lucid overview of Advaita and then examines briefly how the neo-Vedanta of Vivekenanda and the neo-Advaita stemming from Ramana Maharshi and Sri Poonja have discarded key prakriyA-s and thereby short-changed modern seekers. The video is just under 1 1/4 hours but is well-worth watching – easy on the eye and ear, enjoyable and informative.

Q.468 Roles versus Witness

Q: I have been reading Vedanta for a few years and have a question. We are always playing some form of role such as Employee, Worker, Husband, Son etc. My understanding is that Advaita tells us to let the role do its own work but you remain who you are which is the ‘Absolute witness’.

How do we practice this in our daily life?   It seems difficult to have the same kind of energy when you are in that state.

A: What you are speaking of is karma yoga as preparation for j~nAna yoga. The aim in daily life is to respond appropriately to whatever is in front of you, perform the task with attention and do not be attached to the results. This is all a part of the process of acquiring discrimination, mental discipline and detachment. You need these in order to study Advaita (by listening to a qualified teacher explain the scriptures). It is not the purpose of any of this to acquire ‘good energy’ (whatever that means). Continue reading

Q.467 Clarifying pratibimba

Q: I’ve recently been reading about the reflection theory (pratibimba vAda). I’ve gone through a few articles that explain the theory, but still find the ‘bimba’ aspect confusing. I know it’s the pure original consciousness Brahman but what is its actual location? Is bimba (the original consciousness) located in the body or outside the body?

A: The bimba is Consciousness, with a capital ‘C’ – the non-dual reality. In reality there is only Consciousness; all seeming ‘things’ are just name and form of it. But, for the purposes of ‘explaining’ the empirical reality (vyavahAra), we say that each jIva has a ‘reflection’ of Consciousness in their mind. This is called chidAbhAsa or pratibimba. The ‘bimba’ is not located anywhere. If you like, everything is located in the bimba. Think of ‘space’ and ‘jar space’.

Read the essay and discussions at the site:
https://www.advaita-vision.org/chidabhasa/ and
https://www.advaita-vision.org/continuing-reflections-on-reflections/ and discussion at https://www.advaita-vision.org/discussion-on-chidabhasa/

Q: In your article ChidAbhAsa, you’ve added a passage from Shankara’s Brahma Sutra commentary, where he has said the following: Continue reading

Is a single neuron conscious? A brief discussion.

M. Advaita Vedanta’s perspective is better seen from the top down rather than from the bottom up. Consciousness or awareness can be considered (there is a consensus on this) as a ‘fundamental ‘property’ of (or pointer to) reality’, not reality itself, which is unfathomable and indescribable. It permeates every apparently external phenomenon, which is thus an expression or manifestation of Consciousness. Accordingly, a neuron, an electron, is a manifestation of Consciousness – ‘the One without a second’. Alternately, neurons, atoms, etc. are embedded in Consciousness or reality.

PB. I think the best words you can use to characterize reality are awareness/consciousness, existence/beingness and bliss/love. However, I wouldn’t identify reality with consciousness, the other two concepts, or all three together. They are just the purest manifestations of reality that we can identify. True reality is not a thing or concept, it is beyond definition.

But yes, I would agree that neurons, electrons etc. are phenomena of consciousness, as are these words and the bodies and minds that write them.

M. Metaphysical truth is sometimes called apperception, or direct supramental perception, and it is non-transferable. Nicholas of Cusa put it this way: “The highest wisdom is this, to know… how that which is unattainable may be reached or attained unattainably”. Metaphysics (philosophia prima, or first philosophy of medieval times) is not science, and its truths are often dressed as paradoxes, analogies, and metaphors; they are not meant to convince anyone who is not open to them.


A metaphysical truth appeals to intuition; it is an experience, or knowledge-experience… It is not speculation and is not amenable to subject-object relationship or distinction.

M. (to another participant) Did you look up the word ‘rishi/s’? It means ‘sage’ – Swami Vivekananda described Rishi-s  as Mantra-drashtas or “the seers of thought”. He told— “The truth came to the Rishis of India — the Mantra-drashtâs, the seers of thought — and will come to all Rishis in the future, not to talkers, not to book-swallowers, not to scholars, not to philologists, but to seers of thought.” (From Wikipedia).





On Analogy

Hardly does a minute go by when a student of Advaita does not hear an analogy. The subject being so abstruse and abstract, the teacher ostensibly to make things easy to understand (सुख बोधाय), resorts to the method of using an “analogy.” Much like in Theoretical Physics and Quantum Physics, the concepts in Advaita too are usually counterintuitive and metaphor is a powerful tool to help drive home a difficult idea. The danger in using the metaphor is that it, more often than not, lulls the student with a sense as though s/he “got” it (the Oneness of All That-IS).  Perhaps because of that, it is not seldom that we find even an advanced student of Advaita being tempted to extend a metaphor beyond the intended point and make his/her own inferences from such a wrong projection. (I am frequently asked questions on ‘reflected Consciousness,’  ‘Witness-Consciousness’ etc. based on such improper extensions).

No wonder that Physicists (particularly those in Science Communication) are concerned about the “use of metaphor” and the “understanding” it provides. Recently, I found the problem best articulated by  Philip Freeman, a teacher of Physics. He has some interest in Philosophy also. He lives near Vancouver BC, Canada. I am copying from his reply to a question at Quora regarding the limitations of analogies. Continue reading

Two Q & A-s

How can we consciously realize the consciousness concept?

First, consciousness is beyond concepts – language, which is dualist, allows talking of it as if separate from the subject, thus conceptually. But consciousness is a prime reality, the foundation of everything existing; same as being (which are not two). Consciousness is first, an immediate reality and, accordingly, you don’t have to do anything to realize it since you are it. Only, let the veil of ignorance drop, mostly by ‘not this, not this’ – one apavada after another; that is, by real understanding or discrimination. You are being itself, consciousness itself. The knower cannot know itself – as an object.

Who would win in an argument between Ramanujacharya and Shankaracharya?

As non-duality can be said to go beyond, and at the same time enclose duality within itself, we can also say that Shankara, being a non-dualist philosopher, goes beyond and ‘incorporates’ Ramanuja, that is, the latter’s philosophy (it has been said: a jñani understands a bhakta, not vice versa).

Ramanuja took the ego (psychological self) as being the Self, an error for an Advaitin. For the former a destruction of the ego (“me”) will thus entail destruction of the Self. For an Advaitin, the ego or subtle body (mind, senses and vital breath) dissolves when the body dies – not so awareness or pure consciousness.

From the viewpoint of Advaita Vedanta ‘consciousness’ is another name for ‘reality/being/existence’: all there is or that can be (all possibilities of existence). Neither ‘subject’ nor ‘object’, it annihilates this (mental) division, as well as sublating all concepts.

Or, as Francis Lucille, a well-known teacher wrote: ‘Simply put, non-dualism is the hypothesis that reality is non-dual, that there is only one single reality which is the substance of all things, of all phenomena, of both mind and matter. If that is true, it follows that the reality of our ordinary consciousness, meaning whatever it is that is really perceiving these words in this moment, must be this non-dual, single, and universal reality.’

Shankara said:

‘An enlightened person, after his death, does not undergo a change of condition – something different than when he was living. But he is said to be “merged in Brahman” just due to his not being connected to another body.’ Quoted from ‘The Method of Early Advaita Vedanta’, Michael Comans.


Q.466 Creation Theories

Q: Is Isvara/maya the one responsible for the form of the universe or is the jiva responsible for it?

If Isvara/maya:

  • then who/what is Isvara and how does it create the universe?
  • then how does Adhyasa come into the picture because if Isvara is the creator then even if adhyasa is removed then the appearance of the world will still be there.

If the jiva

  • then why does the world not disappear upon enlightenment (a jiva is responsible for the dream at night whilst asleep, therefore the dream disappears upon waking)

I have heard many examples of gold/ornament with regards to the universe and Brahman (Gold being brahman, the names/forms being the ornaments). I’m not sure I have fully grasped this comparison. In what sense does matter depend on Brahman?

I see that all things are experienced IN consciousness and therefore in that sense the world of objects/atoms/quantum fields etc. depends on consciousness/Brahman because the world can not be experienced without consciousness. It doesn’t seem right to me, because it’s not something you could ever refute. Obviously we can’t experience the world without consciousness.

A: The answer to your questions is really ‘it depends’. It depends upon which theory you are ‘using’/accepting.

The ‘simple’, traditional response is that Ishvara creates the world and there are detailed ‘explanations’ as to how this is done in several Upanishads (which do not always agree in the finer detail). To any modern, scientific mind, these explanations are not convincing (to put it politely). And you are right – when adhyAsa is removed for the jIva, the world is still there. Ishvara is both the material and efficient cause – matter IS Ishvara’s own substance, in the analogous way to the web being the spider’s own substance. This is the sRRiShTi-dRRiShTi-vAda theory – the world is created and we then see it.

There is what is believed by its adherents to be a more sophisticated theory, which is that the jIva sees the ‘form’ of brahman and effectively creates the universe out of it. You can appreciate this in the vAchArambhaNa sutras in Chandogya Upanishad. We impose forms on the non-dual substrate and give them names, thereby bringing about an apparent duality. This is the dRRiShTi-sRRiShTi-vAda theory – you see and then create your universe.

Of course, if you think about this second theory, you realize that these forms that you create have to include ‘other jIva-s’ and your own body-mind. This is equivalent to solipsism and is called the eka-jIva-vAda theory – ‘one-jIva’. It is effectively the same as DSV. And, again you are right – upon enlightenment (when ‘I’ am enlightened), the world will disappear.

Personally, I prefer to go straight to ajAti-vAda – there has never been any creation at all. There is only ever the non-dual brahman.

There is much written on all of this. As you appreciate, it is a complex topic. Have you read my last book, ‘A-U-M’? Gaudapada went straight to the heart of the matter and my book tries to cover all that he and Shankara said in their commentaries on the Mandukya Upanishad.

Have a look at Q.103 and http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/teachers/theories_vidyasankar.htm.