Consciousness and the world

What is the scriptural basis for Advaita consciousness being an awareness preceding the universe?

That’s an ‘easy’ one. 1)  Consciousness and awareness are the same for Advaita Vedanta. 2) Atman-brahman, or Consciousness, is the sole reality – the universe is, in essence, not other than Atman (Consciousness or ‘Spirit’). 3) Consequently, there is no creation – no causation, including space and time, which, like everything else, are phenomena, appearances.

Mundaka Upanishad 2.1.10: ‘the world is brahman alone’. 

K 3.18. In this karika Gaudapada demonstrates that creation is only apparent because reality is unchangeable (and it is taught that the effect is not other than the cause).

Katha Up. 2.1.10: ‘Whoever sees difference between what is here (individual Atman/’soul’) and what is there (brahman) goes from death to death’.

Brihadaranyaka Up. 2.5.19: ‘The supreme being is perceived as manifold on account of Maya’ (magic).

Taittiriya Up. 2.6: ‘Brahman, which is the absolute reality, became reality (satya) and unreality/appearance (asatya)’. That is, the cause itself appears as various effects due to superimposition, which is itself the core, or definition, of ignorance (avidya). Cf. Tai. 2.6, Chandogya Up. 2.8.4, and Bhavagad Gita 4.13 and 13.2.

Q.517 Karma and morality

Q: In psychology, there is a popular idea called ‘value judgements;’ it says that all assessments of whether things are good or evil are relative to the condition of one’s mind. The standard for good and bad is constantly changing and relative; good and evil is just a construct. Can this concept be reconciled with the idea of karma, that (to my understanding) can be boiled down to, moral action = positive outcome/happiness, immoral action = negative outcome/suffering. Does an action that constitutes as moral in my eyes, but immoral from another perspective still result in good karma? Isn’t it a bit selfish to assume that the causality of the world revolves around our human construct of morality?

I’d like to hear your perspective on this.

A: Not sure what you mean by ‘causality of the world revolves around our human construct of morality’. Karma operates on a personal basis. Each jIva is reborn according to their past karma. This means both in the ‘appropriate body’ and in the ‘appropriate circumstances’ to enable them to ‘redeem’ their past karma, if you like. So the particular moral outlook of the society into which they are born is relevant, irrespective of how that perspective might change over time or in different societies.

But note that this is more of the initial-interim teaching of Advaita. Since, ultimately, there is no creation and no jIva-s, there is no such thing as karma either.

I don’t disagree with what you say about value judgements but it doesn’t really enter into karma yoga. The way we should act is in response to what is in front of us, without any personal motivation, without thinking about what society might say about how we should act, and without ‘taking anything’ from the result. I.e. whether the outcome is as we might have liked or not is not part of the equation. We ‘dedicate’ action and outcome to God and drop everything after the action is complete.

You might argue that how we respond to what is in front of us is going to be determined by our past environment and genetic factors and that must be true. Can we not ‘choose’ to go against these? That would involve free-will; and that is something else that I don’t believe in!

You should stop worrying about all of these empirical aspects! They are the chains that bind you to saMsAra and will not take you anywhere useful.

Brahman alone is; there is no creation – confusion about

Advaita means non-dual. Advaita Vedanta (AV) asserts that Brahman alone is; there is no creation and that the world is a manifestation of Brahman. For a beginner seeker, like me, it is difficult to accept this assertion because the world is perceived and experienced. It constantly stares at me announcing its existence and reality. AV uses a gold-ornament metaphor to make its point. Ornament is a manifestation (name and form) of gold because there is no ornament separate from gold. To this, a counter poser would be that in the gold-ornament example both gold and ornament are material things and are perceived whereas the world is perceived and Brahman is not perceived. Secondly, how can the material world be a manifestation of immaterial Brahman?

It seems to me that the confusion is due to the term ‘manifestation’ as there is a tendency to perceive both ‘manifestation’ and the ‘thing’ that is manifested. It is preferable to explain the matter in terms of order of reality. Brahman is the highest order of reality; creation, though it exists, is a lower order reality borrowing its existence from Brahman. And in this sense only it is said that Brahman alone is; there is no creation, and that it is a manifestation. With this explanation, the metaphor is more illustrative. The existence of the world is not denied, instead, it is mithya. Idealism (i.e., creation is a manufacture of mind) has no place in AV.

Q.516 World outside of perception

Q: According to science, there was a world prior to humans where there were no living, conscious things. If nothing can exist independently of consciousness like Advaita suggests, then how could there have been a world prior to a perceiver? If there was no sentient being to experience the Big Bang, how could it have possibly existed?

A: Your questions relate to the apparent creation. The final teaching of Advaita is that there is no creation – there is only the non-dual Brahman. This means that the entire teaching of Advaita is interim only since it takes place in what is only empirical reality.

Having said this, the traditional teaching says that the creation, maintenance and dissolution of the universe is ‘managed’ by Ishvara, using the ‘power’ of mAyA. This means that He governs all of the laws that relate to creation and the jIva-s who inhabit it. Now you have to realize that science has ‘advanced’ significantly since the time of the Vedas. While they speak of the raw elements being space, earth, water, fire and air, we have a somewhat more complex cosmology! And I don’t think it is particularly fruitful to try to map one onto the other. Science can never explain Consciousness so is of no value in trying to understand the nature of reality.

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Ramanuja vs Shankara

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, destruction of the ego (“me”) will thus entail the 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, both mind and matter. If that is true, it follows that the reality of our ordinary consciousness, meaning whatever is really perceiving these words at 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.

“Seeing” Objects per Advaita –

We all take it for granted that there is a world full of objects, plants, animals, people and so on out there external to us. All of us also believe that we are born into a world which pre-exists us.

The general public wonder how this enormous world came into being. The scientists study the various facets of its origin and evolution; philosophers conceptualize different ethereal theories for its creation; artists and poets sing peans in its praise.

Advaitins, on the other hand, are unique in their bold pronouncement that the appearance of a world is a mere mental projection, no more than a hallucination.

In order to explain their doctrine, they ask us to rewind our tape, go back to our own birth, the birth of all our ancestors, nay, not only the forefathers but humanity and life itself and beyond — including the very beginning of any living or non-living matter. In other words, clean out the slate completely. And begin at the very beginning. To help us in the process, Advaita tells us that the entire range of things we observe in the whole of the universe can be reduced to two categories: Continue reading

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.

Q.515 Mechanism of chidAbhAsa

Q: There seems to be two ways to understand the mechanism of chidābhāsa:

1. Light (brahman) is reflected off the mind and illuminates objects so they can be seen and experienced.

2. Light reflects off objects and is refracted through the prism of the mind.

I’m guessing that 1 is preferred, because 2 assumes that there are objects for the light (brahman) to reflect off, whereas 1 implies that the objects are only ‘there’ because of the mind?

A: Each of the ‘explanations’ in Advaita is really just to move you a bit closer to the realization that there is only Brahman (and, consequently, you are That). You shouldn’t attempt to ‘join’ them together and try to make one ‘explanation’ ‘explain’ another.

As far as the ‘mechanism’ of perception is concerned, you certainly should not attempt to join an Advaita understanding with a scientific one! According to Advaita, Consciousness itself forms a vRRitti at the location of the object instantaneously (since Consciousness is everywhere). The speed of light, normally considered an inviolable restriction regarding visual perception, just isn’t relevant. Read Chittaranjan Naik’s book ‘Natural Realism and Contact Theory of Perception: Indian Philosophy’s Challenge to Contemporary Paradigms of Knowledge’ if you are interested. (I wrote a review of it at Amazon also.) Buy from Amazon US ; Buy from Amazon UK

Shankara does reference vācārambhaṇa shruti from Chandogya regarding our imposing name and form on Brahman but he also talks about Ishvara creating the universe. You really need to be aware of both and use whichever is appropriate! It is certainly true to say that, without the mind, you would not be aware of anything!

One to many to One – 2/2

Part – 1

The Redemption:

Suggesting a way out of this quagmire of samsAra, Shankara observes:

तं पुनर्देहाभिमानादशरीरस्वरूपविज्ञानेन निवर्तिताविवेकज्ञानमशरीरं सन्तं प्रियाप्रिये स्पृशतः 

Meaning: The same Being, however, when, Its “ignorance in the shape of Its notion of the body being the Self” has been set aside by Its Knowledge of its real “unbodied” nature, then pleasure and pain do not touch It.

धर्माधर्मकार्ये हि ते ; अशरीरता तु स्वरूपमिति तत्र धर्माधर्मयोरसम्भवात् तत्कार्यभावो दूरत एवेत्यतो प्रियाप्रिये स्पृशतः

Meaning: The reason for this (i.e., the absence of pleasure and pain) lies in the fact that pleasure and pain are the effects of merit and demerit, while the real nature of the Self is being unbodied, so, that merit and demerit being impossible in the latter, the appearance of their effect is still further off. Hence, the pleasure and pain do not touch It.

It is important to understand here that unlike the bodily pleasure and pain, the Bliss of the Self is something inherent to It. That Bliss is not a transient feature like ‘touch’ which appears and disappears. We have support for this contention from other shruti mantras too. Shankara writes: Continue reading

One to many to One – 1/2

Shankara’s genius in imparting the true unadulterated message of Advaita (a-dvaita) philosophy shines with the brilliance of thousand  Suns in his commentary at the mantra 8.12.1, chAndogya Upanishad.

Prof. M. Hiriyanna writes in his book, “Outlines of Indian Philosophy,” 1993, that “In some passages the Absolute is presented as cosmic or all-comprehensive in Its nature (saprapanca); in some others again, as acosmic or all-exclusive (niShprapanca).” The cultural Heritage of India,” Vol 1, 1937, observes that the chAndogya Upanishad “seems to teach mainly the ‘saprapanca’ view of Reality.”

Gaudapada, the first human preceptor of Advaita Vedanta, however, writes with unwavering certitude in his kArikA-s (3.48 and 4.71) on mANDUkya Upanishad, “No individual is ever born; there does not exist any reason which can produce an individual creature.”

The chAndogya, Upanishad, follows the popular teaching ‘methodology’ of Advaita, called the “Superimposition – Sublation model.” This model assumes that a world created by a Godhead pre-exists the seeker who is born into it. Thus, the very structure of the model requires positing Lord Ishwara as the Creator and a world for him  to ‘lord’ over. In line with this thinking, this Upanishad ends declaring that the seeker attains ‘brahmaloka‘ (the world where the Lord lives) on the death of the gross body. It says in its mantra, 8.15.1: Continue reading