Q.488 Reading Minds

[Note: This is a long Q&A. Any help that other bloggers and readers can give to resolve the questioner’s concerns will be welcomed!]

Q: If waking life is a kind of dream or modulation of awareness then why is it so continuous? Many Advaitins see waking life as some form of dream, correct me if I’m wrong.

Dreams when asleep are always very new, different and unpredictable. And then they disappear and you wake up and forget the dream. And most likely you will not continue where it ended next sleep. On the other hand, waking life reappears after sleep and it is the ‘same’ as yesterday and it only seems to disappear if you die.

A: There is a lot more to it than that. And it cannot all be explained in a couple of sentences. Pretty much all of my book ‘A-U-M: Awakening to Reality’ was about this. (It is a commentary on Mandukya Upanishad and the explanation by Gaudapada.)

There are 3 states of consciousness – waking, dream and deep sleep and none of them are ‘really real’. Waking seems to be real for the waker. The dream is equally real for the dreamer (who thinks he is a waker)! The true reality is the Consciousness that is the basis of all 3 states. Waking life is said to be like a dream so that you can use this as a metaphor for gaining enlightenment. Continue reading

The myth of Rahu

 

The scriptures utilize many stories and metaphors to coax the mind towards an understanding of Brahman – after all, this is one of the few ways this can be done since Brahman cannot be described. One that is rarely encountered is the myth of rAhu.

According to Monier-Williams (Ref. 179), the word ‘rAhu’ means ‘the Seizer’. It refers to a story in the Hindu purana-s (sacred books of mythology and cosmology), although the myth also occurs in much older Buddhist texts. The fable has the gods ‘churning’ the ocean in order to extract the ‘nectar of immortality’ (amRRita). One of the demons who are watching this, disguises himself, steals a portion and drinks it, thereby becoming immortal too. The sun and moon gods witnessed this and told Vishnu, who subsequently cut off the demon’s head. The head became known as rAhu and the rest of the body (with the tail of a dragon) as ketu. They were then evicted from the earth, from where rAhu continually tries to wreak revenge on the sun and moon by eating (‘seizing’) them. We see these attempts when eclipses take place. Continue reading

Alan Jacobs (9th Sept 1929 – 25th July 2020)

(Photo by Paula Marvelly)

Alan Jacobs, President of the Ramana Maharshi Foundation UK, died last month. Well-known and respected in the Advaita community, he was the author of nearly 30 spiritually-related books, from a contemporary, free-verse rendering of the Bhagavad Gita to a compilation of material from Ramesh Balsekar.

I only met Alan a couple of times so am not qualified to write any eulogy. I will leave that to Paula Marvelly, who knew him for many years. I can however, agree entirely with her summary: “Alan was the quintessential English man of letters and a perfect gentleman. I shall always have an enduring image of him sporting a Panama hat, cravat and cane, with a cup of tea near to hand”. Continue reading

Q.487 Suicide

Q: Since feelings, perceptions and thoughts require a body-mind, and who I truly am is Atman (= brahman), then why should one not commit suicide in order to escape their mental suffering? When they die they will only remain as ‘brahman’. I know the concept of karma is used to scare people away from suicide, but this doesnt exist since brahman (who you really are) feels nothing and does not experiernce it. So what do you have other than the concept of karma to logically persuade someone out of suicide?

A: It is the person that ‘suffers’ and contemplates suicide, because he believes himself to be the body-mind and identifies with the perceived pains and negative emotions. If you KNOW that you are Brahman, then you also know that you are not the person. There may still be physical pains and the mind may still throw up negative emotions but there is no longer any identification. You know that you are even now perfect and complete; there is no identification with body, mind or world because you know they are not real. Indeed they are your own ‘manifestations’, simply the effect of past causes that affect the body-mind appearance. They do not affect who-you-really-are. Why try to change them?

But unless the person knows this, you are never going to convince someone who is contemplating suicide. They need more empirically conventional solutions such as drugs and counselling!

If you are not happy with this response, I can throw it open to the other bloggers and see if they come up with anything better.

Q.446 satyam, j~nAnam anantam brahma

Q: Does the phrase satyam j~nAnam anantam brahma means truth-knowledge limitless or Existence-consciousness limitless? (The latter is the definition given by Swami Dayananda in one of the summer camp tapes.)

A: Strictly speaking, sat means real, existence or being; sattA means being or existence; satya means truth or being. If you look up ‘existence’, you will probably find asti or astitvam. If you look up ‘sat’ in Monier-Williams, one of the meanings is ‘that which really is, entity or existence, essence, the true being or really existent’. If you look up ‘sattva’, you get ‘being, existence, entity, reality, true essence’.

So the answer is that both are used in either context and there is no clear meaning associated with either (and I have come across both being used in both meanings. I am fairly sure that Swami D has used both to mean ‘existence’ and both to mean ‘truth’. Sanskrit is a very versatile language! (But, if you ever come across me using it clearly in one way and Swami D using it in another, take Swamiji’s meaning! He knew Sanskrit inside out; I don’t!) Continue reading

Q.486 Desires

Q: No one wants desires. When we get a desire, what we really want is for it to go away. The usual way to achieve this is by following the desire and fulfilling it. But an alternative way must be to ‘dissolve’ the desire somehow. Then it goes away without having the trouble of giving in to it and trying to satisfy it. Can advaita do this?

A: Here is what I said in ‘Advaita Made Easy’:

“Life is a never-ending cycle of desires followed by actions followed by results (usually disappointing ones because we expected too much). It is a cycle because, once we have attained the desired objective, we quickly supplant the old desire by a new one and the process begins again. We thought that we would be happy when we got whatever it was that we believed that we wanted – but it always turns out that we were mistaken.

“Why do we do it? It is because we feel that we are limited in some way and that the desired object will make us complete. This applies to all desires, from the most basic to the most sophisticated. But there is only one desire which, once achieved, will bring us the fulfillment that we seek and that is to realize our true nature. This is because that realization will bring with it the discovery that we are in fact unlimited. We are already complete.”

Q.485 Enlightenment is Self-knowledge

Q: I read your answer to  the question “Enlightenment is not an experience” here:  https://www.advaita-vision.org/q-389-enlightenment-is-not-an-experience/

You mention, “It is not about experience at all, it is about self-knowledge – the direct knowledge that you are already that which you seek.”

Let’s say I don’t know what 2+2 equals.  Then you teach me that it equals 4.  Is that knowledge?  (intellectually knowing more stuff?) Or is knowledge (Self knowledge) something different? Continue reading

Consciousness – Not such a Hard Problem (2 of 2)

Read Part 1

Without Consciousness, nothing can be known. But Consciousness itself cannot be an object of knowledge, just as in a totally dark room, a torch may illuminate everything but itself. Knowing requires both knower and known. For Consciousness to be known, it would have to be a knowable object but it is the knowing subject. We ‘know’ Consciousness because we are Consciousness. Consciousness is our true nature. The ultimate observer (which is who you essentially are) is simply not amenable to any type of objective investigation: who could there be beyond the ultimate observer to do the investigating?

Numerous attempts have been made to define Consciousness. Most seem to revolve around the assumption that a person’s behaviour indicates its presence or absence. It is argued that consciousness is present during the waking and dream states but not in deep-sleep or under anaesthesia, for example. But this is again to confuse Consciousness and awareness. When we awake from a deep-sleep, we are able to state with confidence that we were ‘aware of nothing’. This is a positive statement – there were no gross objects, emotions or thoughts present for us to perceive. Continue reading

Being with Nisargadatta Maharaj

A student of the teachings of Nisargadatta Maharaj who was also a friend of Jean Dunn (the editor of a number of his books) has kindly submitted a PDF of her ‘diaries’ for free download. Here is his introduction:

Jean Dunn was an American woman who lived for some years in Tiruvannamalai, India, where Ramana Maharshi’s ashram is, by the foot of the sacred mountain Arunachala.  She was devoted to Ramana Maharshi and followed his teachings. In 1977, after numerous invitations to go to meet the great sage, Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, (who became known through the book of dialogues titled “I Am That”), she finally made the trip from southern India to Bombay and met the man whom she recognized as her Guru.

These journals are the notes she made during the time she was with Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj.

These are the complete journals of Jean Dunn from 1977 to 1981, in which she writes in detail of her time with Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj. It includes dialogues that Jean and others have had with Maharaj that have never before been published. Copies of these journals have been informally and freely circulating for decades, among those who are students and practitioners of Advaita Vedanta.

Besides being of particular interest to those who have met Nisargadatta Maharaj, (or to those who have met others in the Inchigiri Navnath tradition that Nisargadatta Maharaj belonged to, such as Ranjit Maharaj and Ramakant Maharaj), it is also of value and interest to the many who have been inspired by “I Am That”, and the three books of dialogues with Nisargadatta Maharaj, which Jean Dunn edited. Nisargadatta had the highest regard for Jean Dunn, and her devotion to him and the teachings, and their palpable impact on her, shine forth in these journals.

 After Nisargadatta Maharaj’s passing, and on his authorization, Jean would meet with, and give guidance to those who would come to her, sharing the wisdom and grace that flowed through her, in her words, her silence, and her whole way of being. This edition of Jean’s Journals is complete, and unaltered.  Nothing is left out from the original manuscript that has been circulating widely among students of advaita from various traditions. As in the original edition, this edition includes the article that Jean wrote on Nisargadatta Maharaj that was published in the Mountain Path magazine in the October 1978 issue, and also includes the interview with Jean done by Malcolm Tillis which was published in his book “Turning East”.

Here is the link to the download (467K).

Consciousness – Not such a Hard Problem (1 of 2)

This is an article I wrote for a Philosophy magazine 5 years ago but it was not published. It was included in my book ‘Western Philosophy Made Easy’, which was based upon the 18-part ‘Overview of Western Philosophy‘.

ABSTRACT

The studies by neuroscience into the functioning of the brain will tell us nothing about Consciousness. We must differentiate between Consciousness and awareness. Consciousness enables the brain to perceive just as electricity enables the computer to process data. The computer does not generate electricity; the brain does not produce Consciousness.

*****

Ever since the ‘study’ of consciousness began to be an academically acceptable area of research amongst scientists, both they and Western philosophers have been heading deeper and deeper into a conceptual cul-de-sac. At the root of the problem is the tacit assumption that science will (one day) be able to provide an explanation for everything. But, more specifically as regards this particular issue, the big ‘C’ of Consciousness must be differentiated from the little ‘a’ of awareness. The conflation of the two means that the true nature of Consciousness will forever elude them.

Below, I address some of the various misconceptions that are misleading many of the neuroscientists and philosophers in the field of Consciousness Studies. It is accepted that not all of these investigators will hold such ‘extreme’ positions (and a few are much more liberal in their approach). Continue reading