Q.447 Realizing Brahman

Q: I know that Brahman is not an object I can find; I think of it more like the realization that I am the tenth man (you know this story I assume). But when I have this sort of realization (I have a lot of them), I can’t tell whether I am realizing Brahman or something else.

One set of realizations involves a sort of inner presence that reveals itself like existence-consciousness-limitless, and I feel it as present in my heart region. It’s very deep and real and it does not come and go like an experience. It gets covered up by my thoughts and emotions, but it’s always there.

Another set of realizations involve a sense that the world of objects is not actually there because the objects are made of consciousness rather than matter.

So my question is: Is Self-realization something you discover in your heart like a presence of happiness or of a consciousness that doesn’t ever come and go but only seems to be obscured by thoughts? Or is self-realization the knowledge that all the objects in the world and mind are made of only consciousness, in the way that dream objects are made of dream-consciousness?

I believe that Advaita Vedanta is saying that somehow nothing exists other than consciousness and thus the objects that appear (including the mind and subtle realm) are not made of matter but rather are ‘made of’ consciousness. Is this correct?

A: The realization that you are the tenth* is a good metaphor, as is the example given in the bhAga-tyAga-lakShaNa story (see Q.345). It is the sudden appreciation that something is radically different from how you had previously thought it was and, moreover and quite specifically, you know that your new way of seeing things is correct. No doubt – it is now clear.

These are metaphors, however. In the case of ‘Self’-realization, it is the recognition that the teaching that you have been hearing (ideally listening to a qualified teacher – i.e. shravaNa) is true, namely that reality is non-dual, that the world and who-you-thought-yourself to be are not in themselves real, that who-you-really-are is that same non-dual reality.

This inner presence that does not come and go is an aspect of it. But everyone has this to some degree. Each one of us feels that ‘who-I-am’ now, at whatever age, is the same ‘who-I-was’ when I was a child. There is an intrinsic awareness that I am not the body or mind, both of which are constantly changing. But this is not the same as realizing why this is, as in the above paragraph. Also, beware of ‘feelings’ – they are as much mithyA as the rest! And the idea that ‘I’ am in the heart is one promulgated by Ramana, though it occurs in the Upanishads. [See Q.61 for more on this.]

Objects in the world are mithyA. But this does not mean that they do not exist. Their separateness is something imposed by our minds. Their ‘substance’ is Consciousness; matter is Consciousness. And Consciousness certainly exists.

Have you read ‘A-U-M’ incidentally? Gaudapada is the original and possibly the best explicator of what Advaita is saying ultimately.

Q: Not to be melodramatic, but what you have said (“you know that your new way of seeing things is correct. No doubt – it is now clear”) … I think this is the best thing I’ve ever heard in my life or ever will do. Clearly, you have understood my question which was basically, is self-realization something real or just an idea you can hitch yourself to out of terror and desperation! From what you say I know exactly what you mean: the recognition is that it is real.

A: Great! But just to clarify: post-enlightenment, yes, you are now clear about the teaching; you know that who-I-really-am is unaffected by any of this. In a sense, everything changes but nothing changes. You still see the world; you still function empirically as you did before. There are still desires and fears but you know that whatever happens does not really matter. The body is still susceptible to pain and will still die; but you know that ‘I’ am not affected by pain and ‘I’ will not die (I was never born). And so on… As I have said before, the extent to which you become serene and totally happy etc. is determined more by the extent that you were fully mentally prepared prior to enlightenment. Enlightenment itself is merely (!) an event in the mind.

[* Here is the story of the ‘Tenth Man’, as I related it in The Book of One (2nd edition):

There is a party of ten men travelling together to a distant village in a remote and rugged area. They encounter a swollen river, which they are obliged to cross. They join hands and begin the perilous crossing but inevitably they lose their footing in the strong current and have to swim. Much later and wetter, they reassemble on the opposite bank. As each counts the number of men who have arrived, they can only find nine and conclude that one of their number has drowned.

“As they are bemoaning their loss, a monk passes by and asks them what the matter is. They explain and, quickly assessing the situation, he recognizes their mistake. He asks them to line up and, taking a stick, he hits the first man once, the second twice and so on down the line, counting out the number aloud each time. Reaching the end, he hits the last man ten times and calls out ‘ten’. What had happened, of course, is that each man had counted the others but forgotten to count himself, and so had only reached nine”.]