Q. 444 Prior to Consciousness

Q: 1. Is there or could there be an Absolute Nothingness that everything, including Awareness, comes from or out of? Part of this question is the possibility that Awareness or Consciousness is only in this world and for this experience.

2. Without a brain and nervous system, or a manifesting medium, Awareness doesn’t even know it is. Therefore, it is still temporary, or a state it seems? And, as Nisargadatta says, what we are is PRIOR to this.

A: 1. The confusion of ‘awareness’ versus ‘consciousness’ a la Nisargadatta has been addressed in other questions. ‘Awareness’ in traditional (my) terminology is a characteristic of the mind of a jIva. A sharp, controlled mind has more awareness than a dull, undisciplined one. But ‘awareness’ is not a ‘substance’ in its own right, so it cannot ‘come out of’ anything. And ‘absolute nothingness’ is just that – and nothing can come out of it by definition! (Or, perhaps more accurately, ONLY nothingness can come out of it!) The concept of ‘absolute nothingness being the reality’ is shunya vAda, which is a Buddhist idea refuted by Shankara in his brahmasUtra and mANDUkya upaniShad commentaries. Continue reading

Q. 474 Psychology and happiness

Q: I have been reading and studying your website and Advaita Vendanta in general and I ran across a few questions while recently reading an article.

You wrote:
 “Vedanta states that the search for happiness in the world is based on a mistaken idea about the source of happiness. The things of the world are seen as objects of one’s desire for achieving completeness and therefore satisfaction and happiness through actions directed at attaining those objects. Objects themselves are neutral, says Vedanta, but one projects a positive or negative bias on the object according to past experience and conditioning. As long as there is the belief that the objects of the world are the source of happiness the endless cycle of desire, action, result, and experience will continue, sometimes with disastrous consequences. “

Does this apply to goals that are not neccesarily objects but still something of the world? Like say for instance studying in college in a field you are interested in. If you are not just studying for the diploma itself and a high pay grade but for the love of the knowledge itself and for being more able to serve those around you would that still fall under mistaking the source of happiness?

I dont know if I am putting this the right way so I hope maybe you can understand what I am asking despite that. I just was wondering does Advaita Vedanta advise not having goals in life at all? Is it disadvantageous to the self to pursue goals in life? If desire for things outside of yourself doesn’t lead to happiness is it a mistake to desire knowledge and service to others as well? 

Also, do you know where I could learn more about how western psychology and Advaita Vedanta are similar and different? Do you have any thoughts on this? I know western psychology is a very broad subject but didnt know if you know of any books or articles that relate the two. Continue reading

Q. 473 TM

Q: Good afternoon, I wonder if i may ask you about meditation please ? In particular TM, Transcendental Meditation.

I have been meditating twice daily for two years now and have not noticed any changes, no more calmness or anything really. I enjoy it while i do it but the feeling does not carry over into daily life.

From your experience would it be best to give it up or persevere a little longer please ? Is there something better than thus type of meditation?

A: Can you describe in some detail what you actually do and what you find? Continue reading

Q. 472 Embodied Atman

Q: Advaitins believe that Atman is omnipresent / all pervasive and therefore doesn’t transmigrate after death. Only the subtle body does the travelling.

If such is the case, then why do some advaitins use the term ’embodied’? The term ’embody’ means, putting something inside a body. For example, once you put something inside an enclosed thing like water in a bottle, and then upon moving the bottle the trapped water also moves along with the bottle.

Is this what they really mean by embodied, that atman remains trapped/enclosed/embodied within the bottle called subtle body, and upon death, atman while being trapped moves along with the subtle body to a new physical vessel?

But then, if Atman moves along with the subtle body at death (i.e. if we take the word embody seriously), then it contradicts the teachings of advaita where they say that Atman is all-pervasive/omnipresent and has no need to change locations. That it is indivisible and cannot be enclosed by any bodies.

What exactly do they mean by embodied then?

A: Yes there is always a danger that, if you latch on to a particular way of phrasing things, you will be confused! The problem is that you cannot really talk about the reality at all so that teachers have to provide ‘explanations’ that are not actually true. You move forward in your understanding one bit at a time, discarding the earlier explanations as you go.

The ‘Atman’ is the word that Advaita gives to the reality as it ‘applies to’ the individual person. ‘Brahman’ is the word that Advaita gives to the reality as it ‘applies’ to the totality, universe and everything. And one of the key teachings is that Atman = Brahman. The word ’embodied’ is certainly used by some teachers but it is quite misleading. Atman is NEVER ‘in’ the body. A much better way of looking at it is that the reality (Brahman, perhaps better thought of as ‘Consciousness’) is ‘reflected’ in the mind of the person. This is why we seem to see separate individuals; the ‘quality’ of the reflection depends upon the quality of the particular mind. But body-minds are inert. They are conscious (small ‘c’) by virtue of Consciousness (large ‘C’) reflecting or animating the body-mind’. Continue reading

Q.471 More on Consciousness versus consciousness

Q: Many Vedanta teachers, nonduality, and especially Direct Path teachers answer the question “Who am I?” with these kinds of constructs:

I am that which is aware of objects. I am the awareness of objects. I am awareness.

I understand the intention of this way of formulating things; it moves the seeker away from the notion that s/he is this or that object (body, mind, etc.). But my problem with the formulation is that it seems to be presented as satyam, but it is in fact mithyam. (When taught properly it’s a good adhyAropa apavAda device, but many of the nonduality teachers I’ve read teach it as an ultimate truth, the foundation of their teachings.

The true (satyam) answer to “Who am I?” is “I am Atman/brahman.” And this is NOT synonymous with saying “I am awareness (or anything else that can be conceived, envisioned, described)” because Atman/brahman is beyond all attributes. So, if one were to avoid using the Sanskrit terms, my answer to “Who am I?” is something like:

I am the mystery.

My question for you as a traditional Advaita teacher is: What is the validity/usefulness of the “I am … ” constructs I listed at the beginning of this email? Continue reading

Q. 470 Aah!

Q: Does this sound right to you?

Advaita considers this to be innate certain knowledge: I exist, I experience (i.e. I am a subject). It is the bedrock of the Advaitin teachings. The source. If I am not utterly certain that I exist and experience, all of the downstream Advaitin views of self and reality will be skewed.

A: No. It is certain knowledge that ‘I exist’. But that ‘I’ (Atman) does not act or enjoy (akartA, abhoktA). So it does not ‘experience’ either. It cannot be a ‘subject’ because then there would have to be an ‘object’ – and that would be duality. Everything other than ‘I’ is mithyA. ‘Experience’ is via the reflected consciousness (chidAbhAsa) in the mind.

Q: I understand.   The thing is, I’m a very intuitive person. I rely on and trust my gut feelings about things. Pure reasoning and logic only go so far for me, particularly in the metaphysical realm.

So in order to be certain that I exist, I need to know it in my gut. Up to now, neither reasoning nor shravaNa has elicited this in-the-gut certainty. What has is perceiving, thinking, and feeling stuff – I experience, therefore I am. 

Brahman is clearly neither subject nor object (nor anything else that can be thought or expressed in words). Thus Atman is also neither subject nor object. Ditto for the Self. But some students (a sizeable number I reckon) are going to find it next to impossible to somehow KNOW stuff like this with certainty but without relying at all on experience, gut feeling, intuition, etc.

A: Sureshvara says that only shravaNa can bring the ‘final understanding’. If you do not currently have it, all you can do is more manana (which you are doing by asking questions) and nididhyAsana (more reading, listening to talks etc.) and then, at some point in the future, come back to more shravaNa. And repeat this loop until a shravaNa session brings you an Aah! moment!

Q:

 

A: Very good!

Q.469 Consciousness versus consciousness

Q: Consciousness (capital C) is brahman is ineffable. consciousness (lowercase c) is the state of being aware (of something). These are fundamentally different ‘things’ … they really have nothing to do with each other. They might as well be called x and Y instead of x and X.

What am I missing here? What justifies consciousness and Consciousness being portrayed (linguistically, in any case) as the same thing except for the capitalization? How is consciousness similar to Consciousness? 

Or is it as simple as: What we call consciousness is <whatever happens to arise mentally when> Consciousness reflects off the mind? In other words: There is no consciousness per se, there is only reflected Consciousness in ALL its forms? The feel of consciousness … qualia, presence, what it is like to be a particular mind-body at a particular moment.

How is this *feel* similar to Consciousness? If they are utterly dissimilar, why use the same root word with different spellings?

A: Interesting questions, although I think maybe you are making more of this than is really there.

Firstly, Consciousness and consciousness have to be the same in reality, since there is only Consciousness. How can you say they have nothing to do with each other? In the light analogy I used [If you look at the analogy of light, the light reflected off a mirror is still light, still photons of electromagnetic radiation, even though the mirror itself is not the originator of those photons.], the reflected photons are the same photons, not newly originated imitations. We call the reflected Consciousness ‘consciousness’ but it is still only ever Consciousness. The reason that we want to differentiate is to explain aspects such as why Consciousness manifests differently in different minds. You could say that a clear, disciplined mind ‘reflects’ Consciousness much more ‘brightly’ than a dull, identified mind, in a similar way to a clean mirror reflecting light much more brightly than a dirty one.

You say to begin with that “consciousness (lowercase c) is the state of being aware (of something)”. But it is Consciousness that enables us to be aware of anything. When Consciousness enlivens the mind, we just happen to call it ‘being conscious’. Your statement “There is no consciousness per se, there is only reflected Consciousness in ALL its forms?” is one way of putting it.

The ‘feel’ of being conscious is one aspect of the mind’s response to the reflection of Consciousness. There is no ‘feel’ under anesthesia, for example, because there is no reflection taking place since the mind is inactive.

Vedanta the Solution – Part 62

VEDĀNTA the solution to our fundamental problem by D. Venugopal

Part 62 concludes the series with a short summary of the function of Vedanta in revealing the truth about the nature of the Self, the world and Ishvara; and the role that saMpradAya plays in achieving this. A list of addresses is provided to access the Arsha Vidya teaching via talks and books. There is a complete Contents List, providing links to the relevant material.

 

Our special thanks to Sri Venugopal for writing this brilliant and accessible summary of the teaching and allowing its serialization at the site.

 

Vedanta the Solution – Part 61

VEDĀNTA the solution to our fundamental problem by D. Venugopal

Part 61 describes what ‘happens’ on becoming a jIvanmukta and the ‘process’ of krama mukti. This part concludes the main presentation. The next post will be a summary of the material.

There is a complete Contents List, to which links are added as each new part appears.

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.