Q.468 Roles versus Witness

Q: I have been reading Vedanta for a few years and have a question. We are always playing some form of role such as Employee, Worker, Husband, Son etc. My understanding is that Advaita tells us to let the role do its own work but you remain who you are which is the ‘Absolute witness’.

How do we practice this in our daily life?   It seems difficult to have the same kind of energy when you are in that state.

A: What you are speaking of is karma yoga as preparation for j~nAna yoga. The aim in daily life is to respond appropriately to whatever is in front of you, perform the task with attention and do not be attached to the results. This is all a part of the process of acquiring discrimination, mental discipline and detachment. You need these in order to study Advaita (by listening to a qualified teacher explain the scriptures). It is not the purpose of any of this to acquire ‘good energy’ (whatever that means). Continue reading

Q.467 Clarifying pratibimba

Q: I’ve recently been reading about the reflection theory (pratibimba vAda). I’ve gone through a few articles that explain the theory, but still find the ‘bimba’ aspect confusing. I know it’s the pure original consciousness Brahman but what is its actual location? Is bimba (the original consciousness) located in the body or outside the body?

A: The bimba is Consciousness, with a capital ‘C’ – the non-dual reality. In reality there is only Consciousness; all seeming ‘things’ are just name and form of it. But, for the purposes of ‘explaining’ the empirical reality (vyavahAra), we say that each jIva has a ‘reflection’ of Consciousness in their mind. This is called chidAbhAsa or pratibimba. The ‘bimba’ is not located anywhere. If you like, everything is located in the bimba. Think of ‘space’ and ‘jar space’.

Read the essay and discussions at the site:
https://www.advaita-vision.org/chidabhasa/ and
https://www.advaita-vision.org/continuing-reflections-on-reflections/ and discussion at https://www.advaita-vision.org/discussion-on-chidabhasa/

Q: In your article ChidAbhAsa, you’ve added a passage from Shankara’s Brahma Sutra commentary, where he has said the following: Continue reading

Q.466 Creation Theories

Q: Is Isvara/maya the one responsible for the form of the universe or is the jiva responsible for it?

If Isvara/maya:

  • then who/what is Isvara and how does it create the universe?
  • then how does Adhyasa come into the picture because if Isvara is the creator then even if adhyasa is removed then the appearance of the world will still be there.

If the jiva

  • then why does the world not disappear upon enlightenment (a jiva is responsible for the dream at night whilst asleep, therefore the dream disappears upon waking)

I have heard many examples of gold/ornament with regards to the universe and Brahman (Gold being brahman, the names/forms being the ornaments). I’m not sure I have fully grasped this comparison. In what sense does matter depend on Brahman?

I see that all things are experienced IN consciousness and therefore in that sense the world of objects/atoms/quantum fields etc. depends on consciousness/Brahman because the world can not be experienced without consciousness. It doesn’t seem right to me, because it’s not something you could ever refute. Obviously we can’t experience the world without consciousness.

A: The answer to your questions is really ‘it depends’. It depends upon which theory you are ‘using’/accepting.

The ‘simple’, traditional response is that Ishvara creates the world and there are detailed ‘explanations’ as to how this is done in several Upanishads (which do not always agree in the finer detail). To any modern, scientific mind, these explanations are not convincing (to put it politely). And you are right – when adhyAsa is removed for the jIva, the world is still there. Ishvara is both the material and efficient cause – matter IS Ishvara’s own substance, in the analogous way to the web being the spider’s own substance. This is the sRRiShTi-dRRiShTi-vAda theory – the world is created and we then see it.

There is what is believed by its adherents to be a more sophisticated theory, which is that the jIva sees the ‘form’ of brahman and effectively creates the universe out of it. You can appreciate this in the vAchArambhaNa sutras in Chandogya Upanishad. We impose forms on the non-dual substrate and give them names, thereby bringing about an apparent duality. This is the dRRiShTi-sRRiShTi-vAda theory – you see and then create your universe.

Of course, if you think about this second theory, you realize that these forms that you create have to include ‘other jIva-s’ and your own body-mind. This is equivalent to solipsism and is called the eka-jIva-vAda theory – ‘one-jIva’. It is effectively the same as DSV. And, again you are right – upon enlightenment (when ‘I’ am enlightened), the world will disappear.

Personally, I prefer to go straight to ajAti-vAda – there has never been any creation at all. There is only ever the non-dual brahman.

There is much written on all of this. As you appreciate, it is a complex topic. Have you read my last book, ‘A-U-M’? Gaudapada went straight to the heart of the matter and my book tries to cover all that he and Shankara said in their commentaries on the Mandukya Upanishad.

Have a look at Q.103 and http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/teachers/theories_vidyasankar.htm.

Q.465 Enlightenment, cause and effect

Q: Brahman is beyond cause and effect. But a seeker’s effort is bound by the principle of cause and effect. Therefore, it would seem that a seeker cannot  reach a state of Self-realization, howsoever much his efforts are sincere.

Obviously, this cannot be quite right. After some though, I arrived at the following possible explanation:

The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, for example, has the mahAvakya: aham brahamAsmi: I am Brahaman.
Brahman+ avidyA = jIva.
If the jIva makes an effort ( which is subject to the cause and effect principle) to remove avidyA, then it can be removed. Once avidyA has been removed, then the ever present, self-luminous Brahman is re-gained. So the method is to remove avidyA. 

Is my reasoning correct?

A: It is not quite correct.

Your main problem is in confusing absolute and empirical reality.  Brahman is the absolute reality; time, space, causality have no meaning, since absolute reality is non-dual. The seeker IS Brahman in absolute reality. At the empirical level, of course, the seeker lives in a world of apparent duality and is subject to cause and effect.

Secondly, what you say implies that you are unclear about ‘Self-realization’. Rather than use that term, or ‘enlightenment’, it is better to refer to ‘Self-knowledge’. Then it is clear that ‘Self-knowledge’ removes ‘Self-ignorance’. If you make the effort, you can remove Self-ignorance. When this happens, you realize that you are Brahman, and always have been, since there is only Brahman. The effort relates to the jIva in the world. The Self-knowledge relates to the mind of the jIva in the world. All these are mithyA, since there is really only Brahman.

So yes, if you make efforts (subject to causality), you can remove avidyA. Then you do not ‘gain’ or ‘regain’ Brahman; you simply realize that you ‘are’ Brahman.

Meet the Ancient Scriptures of Hinduism

Most seekers who have been involved with Advaita for any length of time will be familiar with the writings of Prof. Krishnamurthy, long associated with the Advaitin group for example, and known as ‘ProfVK’. He has a new book coming soon – it will be available from Notionpress.com, notionpress bookstore, amazon.com, amazon.in, either as a e-book or a printed book — from about the 15th of March. The book is a ‘compendium introduction’ to all of the ancient scriptures that form the source of Advaita (and other Indian philosophies). Anyone who is potentially interested may download a selection of extracts from the book.

The Chrysalis (Part 3)

Read Part 2

The sheath-related verses in the Panchadashi occur in Chapter 1:

  1. The five sheaths of the Self are those of the food, the vital air, the mind, the intellect and bliss. Enveloped in them, it forgets its real nature and becomes subject to transmigration.
  2. The gross body which is the product of the quintuplicated elements is known as the food sheath. That portion of the subtle body which is composed of the five vital airs and the five organs of action, and which is the effect of the rajas aspect of Prakriti is called the vital sheath.
  3. The doubting mind and the five sensory organs, which are the effect of Sattva, make up the mind sheath. The determining intellect and the sensory organs make up the intellect sheath.
  4. The impure Sattva which is in the causal body, along with joy and other Vrittis (mental modifications), is called the bliss sheath. Due to identification with the different sheaths, the Self assumes their respective natures.
  5. By differentiating the Self from the five sheaths through the method of distinguishing between the variable and the invariable, one can draw out one’s own Self from the five sheaths and attain the supreme Brahman.

(These are from the translation by Swami Swahananda.) Continue reading

The Chrysalis (Part 2)

Read Part 1

The original metaphor seems to come from the Taittiriya Upanishad. (It is also outlined in the Sarva-Sara Upanishad and the Paingala Upanishad.)

 Here are some extracts from Swami Nikhilananda’s translation of the Taittiriya:

 II.1.3.  From the Atman was born AkAsha; from AkAsha, air; from air, fire; from fire, water; from water, earth; from earth, herbs; from herbs, food; from food, man. He, that man, verily consists of the essence of food. This indeed is his head, this right arm is the right wing, this left arm is the left wing, this trunk is his body, this support below the navel is his tail.

 II.2.1. Verily, different from this, which consists of the essence of food, but within it, is another self, which consists of the vital breath. By this the former is filled. This too has the shape of a man. Like the human shape of the former is the human shape of the latter. prANa, indeed, is its head; vyAna is its right wing; apAna is its left wing; AkAsha is its trunk; the earth is its tail, its support. Continue reading

The Chrysalis (Part 1)

This is the first of a 3-part blog that I originally posted to Advaita Academy, on the subject of the pa~ncha kosha prakriyA, probably better known to most as the metaphor of the ‘Five Sheaths’.

Simplistically, this is the idea that there are various levels of identification of ‘Who I really am’ with aspects of the body-mind and that these have to be recognized and dropped so that I can realize my true nature.

However, because of the way that this idea is sometimes presented, there is often a serious misunderstanding on the part of the seeker who, taking the metaphor in a more literal sense, mistakenly believes that the self is literally ‘covered over’ by these ‘layers’ and somehow has to be ‘uncovered’, like some Russian doll. This misunderstanding may be reinforced by the notion of the Self being ‘hidden in the cave of the heart’ – another potentially misleading idea that I have discussed before. Continue reading