Sanskrit: language of the gods part 1


I am in the process of reviewing old material relating to Advaita Academy as part of my background research for a 2nd edition of Back to the Truth. There are a number of essays, blogs and book reviews by myself and others which I will be reposting here over the next few months (they can no longer be found on-line at present). Here is the first of these – a two-part essay by Peter Bonnici, explaining why Sanskrit is so valuable and why a qualified teacher is necessary. Dennis

Sanskrit: language of the gods – Peter Bonnici

There are many who declare themselves to be students of advaita vedAnta but do not see the value in pursuing the study of texts in Sanskrit as they believe that the proliferation of translations and commentaries on texts like the Upanishads and Bhagavad GIta available in native languages are sufficient. Then there are those who have a working knowledge of Sanskrit who feel that, armed with a dictionary and other necessary tools, they can arrive at the meaning of texts by themselves.

Both are missing something, and for the same reason: namely, the enormous expressiveness, subtlety and flexibility of the language to express the precise meaning that the speaker or writer wishes to convey. (Most of the valuable teaching of advaita was passed on orally and the written form came later.) Not only is one missing out the subtlety of meaning by side-stepping the language, but one can also be lulled into a false sense of security by the book knowledge one has. An example of this can be seen when one compares translations. Here are three translations of the first verse of shankara’s DakShiNamUrti Stotra:

Continue reading

Q.464 Laws of nature

Q: Are the laws of nature eternal? From a scientific viewpoint, consciousness is epiphenomenal and so is fundamentally governed by laws known to science.  If the laws of nature (not the parameters e.g strength of gravity, speed of light etc) are eternal and unchanging then aren’t they nityam and therefore fundamentally ‘real’?

There is a section of the responses to Q.436 (Ishvara and the existence of fossils) where you suggest (I think) that from a vyAvahArika level, time and causation are real. Just wanted to be clear that from a pAramArthika level, space/time and causation are all unreal?

Note: there are some interesting views on time by quantum physicist Carlo Rovelli ( – it seems even from vyAvahArika level one could potentially argue that time is illusory.

A: Everything relating to the empirical universe is mithyA. The nature of the teaching of Advaita is adhyAropa-apavAda, meaning that an explanation is given appropriate to the current level of understanding of the seeker but superseded as their understanding grows. The ‘laws’ of nature are said to be governed by Ishvara but, ultimately, the laws and Ishvara Himself are mithyA. In reality there is only brahman. So, no, the laws are not eternal and not ‘real’. And, yes, you are correct: time and causation also fall into this category (real from the vyAvahArika standpoint but mithyA from the pAramArthika). You must note, though, that mithyA does not mean ‘unreal’ or ‘illusory’; it means that it depends upon brahman for its existence – and brahman is of course real!

Your link sounds interesting; I will have to try to find time to read it.

The names of Brahman

You do not have to have been studying Advaita for very long to know that the words Atman and brahman both refer to the non-dual reality (even if are not yet convinced of this reality). After all, one of the four, particularly well-known mahAvAkya-s is ‘ayam Atam brahman’ – this Atman is brahman.

In fact, we have to expand this vocabulary. Atman usually refers to jIvAtman – what is sometimes (erroneously) called the ‘embodied’ Atman or even the ‘soul’. Also frequently encountered is the term ‘paramAtman’, and this refers to Ishvara, or saguNa brahman – that aspect of brahman which ‘manifests’ as the world, using the ‘power’ of mAyA. It is to be differentiated from the ‘real’, nirguNa brahman which is indescribable, unthinkable, infinite, unlimited etc. and is the ‘Absolute’, non-dual reality. (Note that paramAtman is often translated as ‘supreme Self’, and it might be thought that this means nirguNa brahman. But, if we are in the context of doing something in the world – being the ‘inner controller’, ‘witnessing’ or ‘perceiving’ or ‘creating’ – then it has to mean Ishvara, saguNa brahman, since nirguNa brahman does not do anything.)

Once you are much more familiar with the individual scriptural texts, you will know that sometimes these words are used almost interchangeably. For example, in his bhAShya on the Brahmasutras, Shankara uses the word ‘brahman’ throughout to refer to both nirguNa (brahman) and saguNa (Ishvara) – he expects that, by the time you reach this text (having studied all the major Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita), you will know what he is talking about in each individual case! Continue reading

Q.463 Individual consciousness

Q: Dennis, I have deep question that in fact no one can answer to me. I can accept that I am consciousness in which appearances take place that are in fact manifestations of my own consciousness. I can accept that unbounded universe of my consciousness is in fact my consciousness. This phenomenal universe exists in my waking state and disappears in deep sleep.

I am consciousness all the time. It is OK and understood. BUT I also understand that all these experiences and states belong to ONLY MY INDIVIDUAL CONSCIOUSNESS.
I mean that others have other experiences. They have their own phenomenal universes, their own states in their own consciousnesses! And I have no access to them.

There is existence of many various individual consciousnesses perceiving various things. So can we say that there is no SINGLE Absolute I and no SINGLE consciousness?

A: All problems of understanding in this sort of question arise because of a confusion between ‘absolute reality’ and the ‘apparent world’.

You begin by saying that “I have a deep question“. This ‘I’ refers to the mind of the person (Fred) in the world. All these things – mind, person, Fred, world – are mithyA. They have no absolute reality. They depend upon the absolute reality for their existence. They are name and form of the non-dual Consciousness. Continue reading

Vedanta the Solution – Part 56

VEDĀNTA the solution to our fundamental problem by D. Venugopal

Part 56 concludes the examination of the idea that enlightenment involves an ‘experience’ – this is a misunderstanding of the concept of anubhava. And there is an extended analysis of the ‘tenth man’ metaphor, showing how the mahavAkya-s can give direct knowledge of the Self – aparokSha j~nAna.

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

Teacher and Seeker – Jan Kersschot

Q: One of the things that bothers me massively is that certain Indian masters are so popular that people start to worship them as if they are divine beings. I run away from that because I don’t feel comfortable while seeing that on YouTube. On the other hand, I talked with people who were on a retreat with such a master, and they had gained a lot of insights in his presence. They also experienced authentic moments of deep recognition and clarity. So, I am a bit hesitant about how I should cope with this. I feel I have a deep desire to devote myself to something or someone. I am attracted to go and see such gurus, but I also have some pride inside me. What would my husband and colleagues say if they would see me bowing for an Indian master? What is going on in these places?

JK: You see, this is a nice example to illustrate the difference between duality and dualism. Duality is the difference between the person in the front who is the teacher, say of mathematics, and his or her audience, the pupils listening to him or her to learn the basics of mathematics. From an outsider’s point of view, the teacher is standing in front of the classroom and the pupils are sitting in the rest of the room. That separation is duality. And it is totally fine. In spiritual circles, a similar situation may occur. There is a duality between the master on the one hand and the followers on the other hand. That is again totally fine, it is just a distinction made by the mind. And if there are a lot of followers, it is normal that the teacher is sitting on a platform so that everybody can see him or her. When a spiritual leader like the Dalai Lama gives a speech to the United Nations, it is also similar. And people can be touched by his words on many levels as well. Continue reading

Q.462 Consciousness and rocks

Q: Let us suppose there are two people, one is Conscious and sleeping and the other has been knocked out UnConscious. Since everything is Consciousness both people (though Mithya), are Consciousness.

The Conscious one wakes up (let us hypothetically say we have placed an alarm and he was in deep sleep) by the underlying Turiya, as it is the substrate of all the three states i.e waking/dreaming and deep sleep. The UnConscious one does not wake up even if there is an alarm. He is not dead, like a Table or a log because he probably is still breathing and his body functions are probably going on as usual even though his mind is dormant.

I know Conscious has nothing to do with Awareness/Consciousness I am aware that at the level of Paramarthika Satyam I am the Awareness/Consciousness essence in everything including myself, the rock, the table and those two people. The UnConscious person is still breathing and is not dead like a Rock, so obviously Turiya is substrate for the breathing too. Turiya must then be the essence of a Dead body,a Rock, and the Space between everything too, even though they are not breathing. Where is the Reflected Consciousness and the locus of Turiya and the role of Prana in all this, because Turiya is equated to Atman in many circles. Continue reading

Chaki: A Vedantic Perspective

  Chaki – by Bimal Prasad

This is a household grinding machine called a ‘Chaki’, made of stone.  It has two parts:an upper plate and a lower plate. The upper plate is rotated over the stationary lower plate with the help of a handle fixed at its periphery.

There is a small vertical rod fixed at the centre of the lower plate which passes through a hole at the centre of the upper plate.  The rod serves as an axis around which the upper plate is rotated with the help of the handle. There is sufficient gap in the hole through which grain is poured.

While the grain is poured by one hand, the upper plate is rotated by the other hand with the help of the handle. The grain is pressed between the plates and is ground and powdered. After some time, the upper plate is removed and the grain powder is collected from the surface of the lower plate along with the powder which has come out through the gap between the plates in the course of manual grinding.

The chaki was a common sight in Indian households; no more now. Though physically out of sight, it has left a lasting imprint on the Indian mind because of its  metaphorical association with some Hindi couplets conveying deep meanings related to life and living. Continue reading

Q.443 A ‘simple summary of advaita’

Q: Based on your own search and discoveries over all of these years, and the writing of all of the books and blogs, if you had to summarize all of this, the truth of life, what would you say? 

A: Not sure what you are looking for here. My ‘personal’ view is surely not important and I could scarcely find any better summary than Shankara’s. Anyway, I spent an hour thinking about it (while washing up and vacuuming) and here is my one line summary:

The form does not matter – it is the substance that is important.

Q: How do we know that energy/matter is Consciousness and not just what it is as energy/matter? And why does it matter? Can’t Consciousness just be what it is by itself and simply aware?

A: Energy and matter are both objects of experience. They are transient and finite, changing one into the other and ultimately ending in Absolute zero. Consciousness is the non-dual, unchanging, eternal and infinite reality.

It does not matter from the standpoint of absolute reality. It does not even matter to most jIva-s, since they just get on with the usual pleasure-seeking aims. It matters to one who is seeking Self-knowledge.

Consciousness DOES just be what it is (there is nothing else) but is not ‘aware’ in the usual meaning of the word, since there is nothing else of which to be aware. Continue reading

Q.442 Witnessing and the Self

Q: Seeing-feeling that ‘I’ am not this body (aggregate of cells) and not this external world (job, house, possessions) is much easier for me than seeing that I am not this mind (thoughts, memories, personal history, feelings). The body seems like a suit of clothes, and the external world like a bunch of random stuff. But the mind seems real. At a deep level, I identify with it, feel I am it.

It’s hard to see mental ‘arisings’, particularly those that have strong emotional resonance, as impersonal objects. It feels like my internal, mental life is the ‘real’ me.

A: If you are the mind, what happens to you in the deep sleep state?

Q: I’ve been on the direct path for a few months, limiting the scope of ‘what I know’ to what I directly experience. Speaking from that point of view, I have no clue what happens to ‘me’ in deep sleep. I don’t even know there is such a state as deep sleep, because I have no memory of having experienced it.

A: Presumably there is elapsed time between waking/dream periods. Since you have no experience or knowledge of it, do you think the Self ceases to exist during that period? Continue reading