Arjuna asks Sri Krishna (BG 14.21) to narrate the signs and behaviour of a GunAtita, i.e., one who has transcended three constituents (sattva, rajas, and tamas) of nature. Sri Krishna replies that he neither dislikes illumination (knowledge), activity, and delusion when they appear in the form of objects of experience), nor does he long for them when they disappear. Continue reading

Who is a ‘tattvadarshI’?

The final goal of all the seekers on the Advaitic path is the realization of the nameless formless and featureless “tat” (That), “like It really is,” free from the distortions and aberrations introduced by the perceptual apparatus (the normal ‘vision’) we are accustomed to in our day-to-day life. Many a seeker, though very endowed, intelligent and well-read in scriptures, often finds it difficult to discern between one’s own true intuitive grasp of the Ultimate Advaitic Truth and mere intellectual decipherment of the verbal content of the teaching. Bhagavad-Gita highlights this fact eminently when it says:

मनुष्याणां सहस्रेषु कश्चिद्यतति सिद्धये ।
यततामपि सिद्धानां कश्चिन्मां वेत्ति तत्त्वतः ॥
— 7.3, BG.

Meaning: Among thousands of men, one perchance strives for Perfection; even among those who strive and are perfect, only one perchance knows “me” (i.e. Pure Consciousness) in “true essence” ( तत्त्वतः ).

Shankara explains the meaning of the word ( तत्त्वतः ) as “like It Is” ( यथावत् ) i.e. in Reality, in Its essence. Continue reading

Loss of consciousness

Q (from Quora): Why do I have this fear? How can I solve it? For as long as I can remember I’ve been afraid of going unconscious because I lose control. Even though I know that, when I fall asleep, I always wake up some hours later.

A (Martin): I have made a life-long search for the meaning and reality of ‘myself’ and the world.

Apart from the advice (and different diagnoses) given by others, I am thinking of something else, which has a psychological as well as a philosophical side to it, and it is not just fear of death, but fear of self-annihilation, emptiness, or void where there is no longer an experience of selfhood, of continuity (“what if I don’t wake up?”).

This can of course become an obsession – an existential angst – one of the worst kind. A sensitive child may (I experienced it) entertain the idea of nothingness, including that of *me/myself*, that is, my very personal, intimate consciousness not existing or vanishing into nothingness. It may or may not be associated with the thought “Why is there something (a world) rather than nothing?”

If that strikes a chord – and it is a question of temperament and inclination – there is an answer, which can be obtained at the end of a lengthy, arduous journey: ‘Know thyself’, as it was written on the frontispiece of the oracle of Delphos in ancient Greece. After a lifelong search, I found the most complete, satisfying answer in Advaita Vedanta. According to this philosophy or discipline deep sleep is the most blessed state short of full awakening – that is, awakening from the ‘darkness’ of the awake state and its narrow ego-centered vision shot through with doubt and suffering.

mANDUkya upaniShad Part 12

*** Read Part 11 ***

Mantra 11 (and kArikA K1.21)

सुषुप्तस्थानः प्राज्ञो मकारस्तृतीया मात्र मितेरपीतेवर
मिनोति ह वा इदं सर्वमपीतिश्च भव्ति य एवं वेद॥ ११॥

suShuptasthAnaH prAj~no makArastRRitIyA mAtra miterapItervA
minoti ha vA idaM sarvamapItishcha bhavati ya evaM veda || 11 ||

tRRitIyA mAtra – The third mAtra (of OM)
makAra – the letter ‘m
prAj~na – (is) prAj~na
suShupta sthAnaH – the deep-sleep state
miteH – because (it is like) a ‘measure’
va – or
apIteH – on account of absorption.

ya evaM veda – Whosoever knows this
ha vai – verily
minoti sarvam – measures everything
cha bhavati – and becomes
apItiH – (one who) understands.

The letter m, the third mAtra of OM, is prAj~na, the deep-sleep state because both have the characteristic of a measure and are as though absorbed into the final part. Whoever knows this will be able to assimilate and comprehend everything.

Continue reading

mAyA an attribute of Brahman

Q: Can Advaitins explain how Maya can be an attribute of the supposedly attributeless Brahman? Why was the creation needed if Brahman alone existed? What is Ishwara?

A (Martin):

 1) Maya is not an attribute of Brahman which, as you say, is attributeless. Maya is a diffuse, or polyvalent, concept that gives rise to much confusion, particularly by translating it as ‘illusion’ (see below). This concept can be viewed from psychological, epistemological, and ontological perspectives. Purely from the standpoint of Shankara’s Advaita Vedanta, Maya is tied in with the concept of ‘ignorance’ (avidya), which is prior to it; that is, avidya is the necessary condition for Maya. Once ignorance has been annihilated by knowledge, Maya disappears. That means that from the higher (of two) point of view, Maya does not exist. This is contrary to most post-Shankara authors, with the exception of Suresvara, who taught that Maya is a positive entity or force. If that were the case, how could a positive entity be removed by knowledge? Swami Satchidanandendra, practically alone in the 20th Cent. has defended the former, Shankarian position.

Maya can also be viewed as the power or energy of Brahman to create the world, and etymologically the word comes from ‘magic/magician’.

But note that the (phenomenal) world is not pure illusion, as stated above, but mithya (relatively real)

2) ‘Brahman alone is real. The world is appearance. The world is not other than Brahman’ (one of the ‘great sayings’ – mahavakya).

3) Ishvara is Brahman considered as creator and ‘personal’ by those who need or are proclive to a devotional relationship (creator/creature). It is also known as ‘saguna brahman’ (Brahman with attributes), as (apparently) different from ‘nirguna Brahman’.

Supreme Consummation of Self-knowledge (in Summary)

[This Article, “The Supreme Consummation of Self-knowledge (in Summary)” is about the aspect of “How To” attain the unbroken abidance in/as the Self by a mature and ready seeker. It is (mainly) based on Shankara’s explanation at 18.50, BGB.]

Q: Of what nature is the Self-knowledge?

A: Of the same nature as the Self.
(In other words, Self and Self-knowledge are one and the same).

Q: Of what nature is the Self ?

A: Of the (same) nature as described by Lord Krishna (in the Bhagavad-Gita) and (also) as mentioned in the Upanishads.

Q: But the Upanishads say that the Supreme Self is formless and featureless. For example, 

अरूपम् (formless)  — 1.3.15, kaTha Upanishad. 

Further, it is also said that the Self is not an ‘object’ that is available for perception:

न सन्दृशे तिष्ठति रूपमस्य न चक्षुषा पश्यति कश्चनैनम् (His form does not exist within the range of vision; nobody sees Him with the eye)  – 4.20, Shwetaswatara; 2.3.9, kaTha.

In addition, the Self is,

अशब्दमस्पर्शम् (soundless, not touchable)  –  1.3.15, kaTha.

The Self and the cognition (*) there of being formless and intangible, how can there be constant consummation on the Self? Continue reading

The Paradox of Free Will (Feb 2011)

We haven’t discussed this favorite topic in Advaita for some time! This is an article I wrote for Yoga International over 12 years ago but it only appeared on-line for a short time at Advaita Academy.

Why do you act the way that you do? If it is because you feel you ought to do something, you probably recognize there is little free will involved. You are being coerced by society or family, or influenced by concerns over what might happen if you don’t act in that way. On the other hand, if you do something because you want to, then perhaps you believe you are exercising free will. But is this true even when you trace the source of your desire? For example, you see a cream cake in the window of a shop, and the thought arises, I would like some cake. Did you freely choose to have that thought? Indeed, can you choose to have any thought? Do they not simply arise?

Anyone who has thought deeply about spiritual matters knows that one of the fundamental problems is how to reconcile our day-to-day experience with claims about God or a nondual reality. The first level seems concrete and demonstrable while the second is speculative, to say the least. Among the Indian philosophies, advaita Vedānta is the only one that speaks of orders of reality. There is the absolute nondual reality (paramārtha); the empirical level (vyavahāra); and the illusory level of dreams (pratibhāsa). Correctly differentiating among these levels is essential if we are to understand the subtleties involved in the question of free will.

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On the Teaching of SSSS

SSSS, of course, refers to the famous, if contentious, Advaitin Sri Satchidanandendra Saraswati Swamiji (1880 – 1975).

In 2014, I wrote a review of the article “A New Approach to Understanding Advaita as Taught by Sankara Bhagavadpada” by Ramakrishnan Balasubramanian – The article was very critical of SSSS and my review provided a defense. 

SSSS’s book “Salient Features of Ṥaṅkara’s Vedānta’ has an introduction by Prof. S.K. Ramachandra Rao and the latter makes the following points:

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mANDUkya upaniShad Part 11

*** Read Part 10 ***

Mantra 10 (and kārikā K1.20)

स्वप्नस्थानस्तैजस उकारो द्वितीया मात्रोत्कर्षादुभयत्वाद्वोत्कर्षति ह वै ज्ञानसन्ततिं समानश्च भवति नास्याब्रह्मवित्कुले भवाति य एवं वेद ॥ १० ॥

svapnasthānastaijasa ukāro dvitīyā mātrotkarṣādubhayatvādvotkarṣati ha vai jñānasantatiṃ samānaśca bhavati nāsyābrahmavitkule bhavāti ya evaṃ veda || 10 ||

dvitIyā mātra – The second mātra (of OM)
ukāraḥ – the letter ‘u’
taijasa – is taijasa
svapna sthāna – the dream state
utkarṣāt – because it is superior
– or
ubhayatvāt – because it is in the middle.

ya evaṃ veda – Whosoever knows this
ha vai – verily
utkarṣāti – increases
jñāna saṃtati – the flow of knowledge
cha bhavati – and becomes
samānaḥ – the equal (of anyone).

abrahmavit – (A person who is) not a knower of brahman
na bhavāti – is not born
asya kule – in his family.

The letter u, the second mātra of OM, is taijasa, the dream state, because both are regarded as superior and also are in the middle of their respective series. Whoever knows this will become superior in knowledge and accepted by all. All members of his family will be jñānī-s.

The letter u is regarded as superior to a because it comes later in the alphabet and, in the sounding of o, the a ‘resolves’ into u. Whereas a was the basic, unadorned sound made by merely opening the mouth, u is a more subtle sound requiring that we modify the lips significantly.

The subtle taijasa is regarded as superior to vishva because subtle is superior to gross. Also, gross can be considered as the ‘effect’ of the subtle ’cause’. Gross equates to matter, subtle to energy. Mental is superior to physical; it is the quality of our mind that raises us above animals. The gross body returns to earth on death, whereas the subtle and causal bodies continue to rebirth (for the ajñānī). At the macrocosmic (samaṣṭi) level, at the end of the universe (pralaya), the entire gross creation (virāṭ) is subsumed into hiraṇyagarbha.

Each is the middle of its respective series: u comes between a and m; taijasa comes between vishva and prājña.

By meditating on OM, giving attention particularly to the letter u and being aware of these associations, the following benefits will accrue to the seeker who is still primarily interested in material benefits:  their mental power and corresponding knowledge will increase; they will be treated equally by everyone, yet envied by no one.

*** Read Part 12 ***

The reification of ignorance

The reification of ignorance or the One-percent Brigade

There has recently been a brief spate of posts relevant to this topic on the Advaitin List. I rarely post there these days for fear of getting involved in long arguments with members committed to opposing views. But, after someone claimed that 99% of Advaitins accepted that ‘ignorance’ was a really existent entity, I posted to assert my membership of the ‘1% Brigade’, explaining that “I mainly wanted to reassure those readers who were dismayed to think that they were in the 1% and apparently did not understand Advaita!”

What I said was:
“(In volume 2 of ‘Confusions’), one of the aspects that I specifically address is the notion of avidyā as a really existent entity and I am afraid that I have to conclude, using reason and common sense, as well as the quotations, that what is meant by ‘ignorance’ is simply ‘lack of knowledge’. Essentially, it is a language problem. So, yes, there is certainly ignorance in the deep-sleep state, simply because the mind is resolved and incapable of having knowledge about anything. But there is no mūlāvidyā, I’m afraid. And I hope that many will be convinced if they read all of the arguments.”

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