Why do we exist? (Answers in Quora)

You could equally have asked: Why do stones and trees… the earth, the universe exist? There is no answer to any of those questions – other than by the various theologies. Existence is, and is the way it is, how it is – it is a given. No reasons can be given, in the same way that we cannot find a meaning to it all.

But we can assert with confidence that there is intelligence in the world, in the universe and, by extension, in all it contains; intelligence is participated in by all beings. By persistent questioning, it is possible to find an answer as to what is the nature of the universe, of existence, and of ‘me’. That answer is both personal and impersonal. Find out what the rishis of old revealed, which goes way beyond religion. Continue reading

Consciousness – Not such a Hard Problem (2 of 2)

Read Part 1

Without Consciousness, nothing can be known. But Consciousness itself cannot be an object of knowledge, just as in a totally dark room, a torch may illuminate everything but itself. Knowing requires both knower and known. For Consciousness to be known, it would have to be a knowable object but it is the knowing subject. We ‘know’ Consciousness because we are Consciousness. Consciousness is our true nature. The ultimate observer (which is who you essentially are) is simply not amenable to any type of objective investigation: who could there be beyond the ultimate observer to do the investigating?

Numerous attempts have been made to define Consciousness. Most seem to revolve around the assumption that a person’s behaviour indicates its presence or absence. It is argued that consciousness is present during the waking and dream states but not in deep-sleep or under anaesthesia, for example. But this is again to confuse Consciousness and awareness. When we awake from a deep-sleep, we are able to state with confidence that we were ‘aware of nothing’. This is a positive statement – there were no gross objects, emotions or thoughts present for us to perceive. Continue reading

Being with Nisargadatta Maharaj

A student of the teachings of Nisargadatta Maharaj who was also a friend of Jean Dunn (the editor of a number of his books) has kindly submitted a PDF of her ‘diaries’ for free download. Here is his introduction:

Jean Dunn was an American woman who lived for some years in Tiruvannamalai, India, where Ramana Maharshi’s ashram is, by the foot of the sacred mountain Arunachala.  She was devoted to Ramana Maharshi and followed his teachings. In 1977, after numerous invitations to go to meet the great sage, Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, (who became known through the book of dialogues titled “I Am That”), she finally made the trip from southern India to Bombay and met the man whom she recognized as her Guru.

These journals are the notes she made during the time she was with Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj.

These are the complete journals of Jean Dunn from 1977 to 1981, in which she writes in detail of her time with Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj. It includes dialogues that Jean and others have had with Maharaj that have never before been published. Copies of these journals have been informally and freely circulating for decades, among those who are students and practitioners of Advaita Vedanta.

Besides being of particular interest to those who have met Nisargadatta Maharaj, (or to those who have met others in the Inchigiri Navnath tradition that Nisargadatta Maharaj belonged to, such as Ranjit Maharaj and Ramakant Maharaj), it is also of value and interest to the many who have been inspired by “I Am That”, and the three books of dialogues with Nisargadatta Maharaj, which Jean Dunn edited. Nisargadatta had the highest regard for Jean Dunn, and her devotion to him and the teachings, and their palpable impact on her, shine forth in these journals.

 After Nisargadatta Maharaj’s passing, and on his authorization, Jean would meet with, and give guidance to those who would come to her, sharing the wisdom and grace that flowed through her, in her words, her silence, and her whole way of being. This edition of Jean’s Journals is complete, and unaltered.  Nothing is left out from the original manuscript that has been circulating widely among students of advaita from various traditions. As in the original edition, this edition includes the article that Jean wrote on Nisargadatta Maharaj that was published in the Mountain Path magazine in the October 1978 issue, and also includes the interview with Jean done by Malcolm Tillis which was published in his book “Turning East”.

Here is the link to the download (467K).

Consciousness – Not such a Hard Problem (1 of 2)

This is an article I wrote for a Philosophy magazine 5 years ago but it was not published. It was included in my book ‘Western Philosophy Made Easy’, which was based upon the 18-part ‘Overview of Western Philosophy‘.


The studies by neuroscience into the functioning of the brain will tell us nothing about Consciousness. We must differentiate between Consciousness and awareness. Consciousness enables the brain to perceive just as electricity enables the computer to process data. The computer does not generate electricity; the brain does not produce Consciousness.


Ever since the ‘study’ of consciousness began to be an academically acceptable area of research amongst scientists, both they and Western philosophers have been heading deeper and deeper into a conceptual cul-de-sac. At the root of the problem is the tacit assumption that science will (one day) be able to provide an explanation for everything. But, more specifically as regards this particular issue, the big ‘C’ of Consciousness must be differentiated from the little ‘a’ of awareness. The conflation of the two means that the true nature of Consciousness will forever elude them.

Below, I address some of the various misconceptions that are misleading many of the neuroscientists and philosophers in the field of Consciousness Studies. It is accepted that not all of these investigators will hold such ‘extreme’ positions (and a few are much more liberal in their approach). Continue reading

The Great Indian Rope Trick:

The famous Indian Rope Trick is Shankara’s favorite to illustrate how the world or an individual separate ‘self’ originates. He says that it is like the mesmerizing show created by a Magician, himself being unaffected and uninvolved and standing unseen, “veiled magically,” on the ground. Here are three instances where Shankara refers to the Rope Trick in his Commentaries:

Shankara @ 7, Ch 1, Gaudapada kArikA on mANDUkya:

The magician throws the rope up in the sky, climbs by it with hands, disappears from sight (of the spectators), engages himself in a fight (in the sky) in which his limbs, having been severed, fall to the ground and he rises again. The onlooker, though witnessing the performance, does not evince any interest in the thought in regard to the reality of the magic show performed by the magician. Similarly, there is a real illusionist who is other than the rope and the one that climbs up the rope. Continue reading

Ashtavakra Gita Chalisa: 40 verses from Ashtavakra Gita

Part 2 of 2

अष्टावक्र उवाच –
आचक्ष्व शृणु वा तात नानाशास्त्राण्यनेकशः।
तथापि न तव स्वास्थ्यं सर्वविस्मरणाद् ऋते॥ 16.1॥
aṣṭāvakra uvāca-
ācakṣva śṛṇu vā tāta nānāśāstrāṇyanekaśaḥ;
tathāpi na tava svāsthyaṃ sarvavismaraṇādṛte.

Ashtavakra says: My child, you may have heard from many scholars or read many scriptures, yet you will not be established in Self unless you forget every single thing.

इदं कृतमिदं नेति द्वंद्वैर्मुक्तं यदा मनः।
धर्मार्थकाममोक्षेषु निरपेक्षं तदा भवेत्॥16.5॥

idaṃ kṛtamidaṃ neti dvandvairmuktaṃ yadā manaḥ;
dharmārthakāmamokṣeṣu nirapekṣaṃ tadā bhavet.

Ashtavakra: When mind is free from pairs of opposites such as ‘this is done’ and ‘this is not done’, it is free from the desire of religious merit, worldly prosperity, sensuality and liberation.

Continue reading

Ashtavakra Gita Chalisa: 40 verses from Ashtavakra Gita

 Part 1 of 2


Asshtavakra Gita (also known as Ashtavakra Samhita) is a conversation between the king Janaka and sage Ashtavakra. Vakra means crooked. Ashtavakra’s body was crooked since birth because of a curse from his father. The Gita has 298 verses in twenty chapters. Chapter 18 has the maximum number of 100 verses. As Janaka is a jnani student (he is known as Janakvideha) the conversation is of the highest order and most of the verses are declaration of bare non-dual truths from the Absolute standpoint. There is no recourse to reason and explanation. It is tailor made for a seeker who has got reasonable success in shravan (listening) and manan (contemplation) and has crossed the intellectual threshold and his heart is ready to throb. The verses can be used for nidhidhyasana (vedantic meditation). With this view, 40 verses are selected with meaning and presented here. One can as well make another set of different verses.

Note: 1.2 means verse 2 in chapter 1            


जनक उवाच –
कथं ज्ञानमवाप्नोति, कथं मुक्तिर्भविष्यति।
वैराग्य च कथं प्राप्तमेतद ब्रूहि मम प्रभो॥1.1॥

Janaka uvāca
kathaṃ jñānamavāpnoti kathaṃ muktirbhaviṣyati;
vairāgyaṃ ca kathaṃ prāptametadbrūhi mama prabho.

Janaka asks the sage Ashtavakra. How is knowledge acquired, how is liberation  attained and how is renunciation possible? Please tell me all this; O great one. Continue reading

The Ignorance that Isn’t – 8/8

Part – 7/8

15.  jIva and jagat are Notional (Contd):

When Arjuna laments at the prospect of killing his loved ones in the war, Krishna tells him, “It was not that I was not existing before nor will I stop existing in the future.” That means there is no beginning or end, nor do the birth and death exist. Life is merely a transitional form that arises in between the unreal appearance of birth and death. Since birth and death are unreal, we (as the Self) are already liberated.

त्वेवाहं जातु नासं त्वं नेमे जनाधिपा |
चैव भविष्याम: सर्वे वयमत: परम् ||              —  2:12, Bhagavad-Gita.

[Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be.]

In the very next verse, Krishna, however, says: Continue reading

Q.484 Sense of Self

Q: About six years ago I was looking for the separate self through directly paying attention to the sense of self in my immediate experience. I did this over about a week or ten days during regular life. I followed this sense of self when it shifted say from the body to the thinking mind, to the sense of will etc. Suddenly everything dropped away and what was seen was just openness/absence of self /no me /nothing +everything.

I’m not sure how long this lasted. Then the mind came back. I felt liberated from all worry and desire for a couple of months. Then slowly old habits reestablished themselves. Since then I am at a loss what to do. 

So I have no problem accepting Advaita teachings but I could do with some further guidance. 

A: Presumably you are prepared to accept the basic premise of Advaita – that reality is non-dual. If it is true, then it must be the case that you already are the ‘Self’. So it is not really a case of ‘looking for it’ but rather realizing that you are already ‘It’. So you can ask yourself the question ‘who would be looking for what?’. The ‘sense of self’ is not the Self; it is a feeling or an idea in the mind.

If you practice meditation seriously (twice a day, 30mins at a time, for several years), you will eventually experience periods of samAdhi, which correspond to the experience you describe. But this is just an experience – as you can tell because it has a beginning and an end. Realizing the truth of Advaita, becoming ‘enlightened’, is Self-knowledge, not an experience.

Having said that, it is possible to gain Self-knowledge and yet still not have the ‘sense of bliss’, fulfillment or whatever, that you believe ought to result. This is because of ‘obstacles’ in the mind (pratibandha-s) remaining from having insufficiently ‘prepared’ the mind beforehand (sAdhana chatuShTaya sampatti).

The book I am currently writing is all about the confusions that are brought about in seekers as a result of wrong understanding by many modern teachers. pratibandha-s will be one of the topics covered and, because there has been much discussion on related issues at the website recently, I will be begin posting the material for this topic within the next week. It is quite long so will be in 3 or 4 parts. I suggest you look out for it and join in any subsequent discussion if you like. [Since this Q&A, I have posted the pratibandha series, now in around 11 parts, and it begins here.]

The Ignorance that Isn’t – 7/8

Part – 6/8  

13.  The Logical Fallacy of Infinite Regress:

While explicating further on the question of “Whose is avidyA  (Ignorance)?” Shankara points out that the contention “I am ignorant” is a logical fallacy which would lead one to an infinite regress.

Shankara says:

ज्ञातुः अविद्यायाश्च सम्बन्धस्य यः ग्रहीता, ज्ञानं अन्यत् तद्विषयं सम्भवति ; अनवस्थाप्राप्तेः   ज्ञातुः अविद्यायाश्च सम्बन्धस्य यः ग्रहीता, ज्ञानं अन्यत् तद्विषयं सम्भवति ; अनवस्थाप्राप्तेः  यदि ज्ञात्रापि ज्ञेयसम्बन्धो ज्ञायते, अन्यः ज्ञाता कल्प्यः स्यात् , तस्यापि अन्यः, तस्यापि अन्यः इति अनवस्था अपरिहार्या  यदि पुनः अविद्या ज्ञेया, अन्यद्वा ज्ञेयं ज्ञेयमेव  तथा ज्ञातापि ज्ञातैव, ज्ञेयं भवति  यदा एवम् , अविद्यादुःखित्वाद्यैः ज्ञातुः क्षेत्रज्ञस्य किञ्चित् दुष्यति

“How can you perceive the relation between the Self and avidyA? It is not indeed possible for you to perceive your Self as related to avidyA, at the same moment (that your Self cognizes avidyA); for, the cognizer (Self) acts at the moment as the percipient of avidyA. (The Self cannot be both the perceiver and the perceived at the same time). Continue reading