Advaita means non-dual. Advaita Vedanta (AV) asserts that Brahman alone is; there is no creation and that the world is a manifestation of Brahman. For a beginner seeker, like me, it is difficult to accept this assertion because the world is perceived and experienced. It constantly stares at me announcing its existence and reality. AV uses a gold-ornament metaphor to make its point. Ornament is a manifestation (name and form) of gold because there is no ornament separate from gold. To this, a counter poser would be that in the gold-ornament example both gold and ornament are material things and are perceived whereas the world is perceived and Brahman is not perceived. Secondly, how can the material world be a manifestation of immaterial Brahman?
It seems to me that the confusion is due to the term ‘manifestation’ as there is a tendency to perceive both ‘manifestation’ and the ‘thing’ that is manifested. It is preferable to explain the matter in terms of order of reality. Brahman is the highest order of reality; creation, though it exists, is a lower order reality borrowing its existence from Brahman. And in this sense only it is said that Brahman alone is; there is no creation, and that it is a manifestation. With this explanation, the metaphor is more illustrative. The existence of the world is not denied, instead, it is mithya. Idealism (i.e., creation is a manufacture of mind) has no place in AV.
Theorem: I am awareness. Proof: In plane geometry there are a few axioms, e. g., a point has no dimensions; a straight line has no width and is infinite. They are axioms because they are obvious and taken as proved. The axioms are necessary to prove geometrical theorems. In the same manner, there are three axioms, namely, (1) I am different from what I am or can be aware of, (2) I can be aware of what I am not, and (3) awareness is different from object of awareness.They are obvious and do not need any proof. Call them vedantic axioms in the present context. Now let us try to find out the things which I am aware of. It is simple to accept that I am aware of objects in the world outside. For example, I am aware of tree and building. Therefore I am not the tree or the building. What about my body? It is also true the I am aware of different parts of the body and the complete body. I am aware of eyes, ears, etc. Thus I am not the body including the sense organs. What about the mind? Mind in simple terms is where thoughts arise or which gives rise to them. Thoughts are in the form of ideas, emotions, memory, feeling, etc. My experience is that I am aware of my thoughts. It would follow that I am not the mind. To understand this fact is a crucial step.I am aware of all the worldly objects including my mind and body. Therefore, I am different from them by application of axiom (1). After excluding/ negating the worldly objects, the mind and the body, two entities are left, namely, I (negator) and awareness. It is another important step. As this awareness is without any object, it is pure awareness. Now analyse the validity of statement, ‘I am aware of awareness’. It is not valid because vide axiom (3) it would mean that awareness is different from awareness, an absurdity. Thus I cannot be aware of awareness. By virtue of axiom (2) it leads to the conclusion that I am not different from awareness. In other words, I am awareness.
Swami TadAtmAnanda of Arsha Bodha Center, in one of his talks on Bhagavad Gita, explains the above three with the help of the metaphor of a dream. I have attempted to improve it with a lucid dream, i.e., the dreamer knows that it is a dream. X sleeps in a bed. His mind projects a dreamer Y and a dream out of vasanas. Y is different from X. They belong to two different orders of reality. X is in the waking world and Y is in a dream world. There are many characters in the dream world and for them, the dream is not a dream; it is a waking state. Y is a special dream character as he knows that it is a dream. To avoid confusion, the dream character Y is named Z. Y is the creator, sustainer, and destroyer of the dream. The dream characters have no idea at all about X of the waking world. X belongs to a higher order of reality. X is transcendental so to say and is like Nirgun Brahman. Y is like Sagun Brahman (Ishwar). Z who knows that it is a dream is like an Avatar.
Note: As it is a metaphor it has some limitations.
Raga and dvesha are two notorious impediments in the path of a spiritual journey. Raga is attachment and dvesha is aversion. Vedantic scriptures tirelessly warn a seeker to guard against them. In a pair of verses 2.62 and 2.63 of Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna enumerates eight steps as to how attachment arises and leads to spiritual downfall.
ध्यायतो विषयान्पुंसः सङ्गस्तेषूपजायते।
सङ्गात् संजायते कामः कामात्क्रोधोऽभिजायते II
dhyāyatō viṣayānpuṅsaḥ saṅgastēṣūpajāyatē,
saṅgāt saṅjāyatē kāmaḥ kāmātkrōdhō.bhijāyatē.
When the mind dwells on sense objects, then attachment to sense objects arises. Attachment leads to a desire for the sense objects and the desire to anger.
क्रोधाद्भवति संमोहः संमोहात्स्मृतिविभ्रमः।
स्मृतिभ्रंशाद् बुद्धिनाशो बुद्धिनाशात्प्रणश्यति।।
krōdhādbhavati saṅmōhaḥ saṅmōhātsmṛtivibhramaḥ,
smṛtibhraṅśād buddhināśō buddhināśātpraṇaśyati.
From anger arises delusion and from delusion, memory loss arises. Memory loss results in loss of intellect and discrimination. With the loss of intellect and discrimination, one is lost. He loses everything. Continue reading
Chapter 6 of BhAgavad GitA (BG) is titled ‘Yoga of Meditation’. Though the words used are yoga and meditation, it does not refer to yogic meditation; it is Vedantic meditation. Sutra 2 of Patanjali yoga sutras is ‘yoga chittavritti nirodha’ meaning yoga is the cessation of vritties of mind (modifications of mind). It is a state of thoughtlessness so to speak. Vedantic meditation does not require cessation of the vritties. Instead, it is about atma-vritti. The yogic meditation is useful for it enables the mind to quieten so as to undertake Vedantic meditation. Verses 20 to 23 of chapter 6 talk about the two types of meditation and the benefits flowing from the Vedantic meditation. The website https://www.gitasupersite.iitk.ac.in/ has BG and other scriptures in different languages with their meanings and commentaries. There are lectures of Swami ParmArthananda on Gita BhAsyama of Shankaracharya available on the website of Arsha Avinash Foundation (https://arshaavinash.in/). Continue reading
Bhedha-abhedha-vAda is the doctrine of difference in identity, i.e., Brahman and jIva are both different and identical. Brahman is homogeneous, one total. It becomes plural by undergoing real differentiation to form the world and individual jIvas. More importantly, both the total and plural are Satya (Real).
In verse 78, the AchArya refutes: “The doctrine that the Absolute is known through a conjunction of knowledge and action is difficult to maintain in the case of those whose Absolute is not devoid of differentiation” [Translation, AJ Alston]. He asks a bhedha-abhedha-vAdi: whether Brahman and jIva are identical or are different and then proceeds to establish the invalidity of the possible answers.
1 Suppose the answer is that they are identical. In that case, nescience could be the only reason for the jiva not realizing the truth of its identity with the Brahman. As knowledge alone removes the nescience, action is useless in this regard.
2 Suppose the answer is that they are different. If jIva is essentially different from Brahman, logically one cannot become another. No sAdhanA (practice), e.g., karma, or knowledge, or their conjunction can convert jIva into Brahman. It means that moksha is impossible. “Even supposing there were some causes that could make them identical, one could not attain the nature of the other without undergoing destruction” [AJ Alston]. It needs some explaining. That the jIva attains Brahmanhood and also retains the jIvabhAva is not possible because it is finite and Brahman is infinite. Even if, hypothetically, it does so, there will be no liberation since the jIva retains the jIvabhAva.The alternative that the jIva attains Brahmanhood and drops the jIva status does not serve the purpose because there will be no jIva. In Advaita, a jIva does not become Brahman. It is already Brahman and (re)claims Brahmanhood by dropping the notion:‘I am jIva’.
10 Is moksha attained by means of every karma or by all the karmas put together?
A Vedantin asks pUrva paksha, “whether every Vedic karma will lead to liberation or all the karmas put together will give liberation?” If every karma can give liberation, all other karmas become redundant. Then, why should the Veda prescribe so many karmas? If moksha results through all the karmas put together then all karmas prescribed in the scriptures will have to be done to attain moksha. But no individual can do all the Vedic karmas for the reason that different Vedic karmas are prescribed for different varnAsramas. This would mean that moksha will not be possible for any person. A suggestion that the performance of all karmas prescribed for a particular varnAshrama will give moksha is unpractical. The categories of karmas performed by people of different varnAshramas will be different yet all will result in moksha. It would imply that moksha sAdhanAs can be different and if sAdhanAs are different, sAdhyAs also will be different. Results are different for different karmas is an accepted principle. On the other hand, there is only one moksha. A suggestion that if one or all karmas cannot give liberation, then specific karmas could do so has no scriptural support because results for various karmas are indicated in the Veda and moksha does not figure there. A desperate proposal that some karmas for which no fruits are prescribed could work is devoid of any merit.
Samuchchay (continued from Part 2)
8.31 Knowledge is to be followed by action
Advocate (K3) of this view holds that Self- knowledge arises in two stages, namely, knowledge through sravan followed by the knowledge through meditation. The sravan stage knowledge falls short of realization that is converted by meditation into realization and liberation. K3 also argues that even if knowledge arises at the stage of sravan, the common experience is that it gets weakened gradually with the rise of adverse emotions and ignorance takes over. Therefore, it is argued that knowledge acquired by sravan is not sufficient to destroy ignorance for good. It needs further support by way of karmas, such as meditation.
The Acharya does not agree. He says that proper sravan is sufficient to give liberation. No new knowledge is acquired by meditation. Mediation, etc, is needed for sAdhanA chatushtAya sampathi so that a seeker becomes an adhikAri for Vedanta teaching. Sravana is the primary sAdhanA for Self-knowledge and liberation. All other sAdhanAs are subsidiaries. The AchArya is firm that once ignorance is gone, in no way it will come back otherwise it will be in violation of the maxim, namely, ignorance is beginningless. Then the question is why does one entertain adverse notions of duality, suffering after gaining knowledge? The explanation is that ignorance is not responsible for the emergence of erroneous notions. The vAsanAs are responsible. JnAna destroys avidyA, not the avidyA vAsanas. The next question is whether any karmas are required to cure adverse vAsanAs. No, says the Acharya. NidhidhyAsana, i.e., Vedantic meditation (not yogic meditation) is sufficient to firm up jnAna vAsnAs so that whenever adverse vAsanAs arise, jnAna vAsanAs should get automatically triggered for a good seeker and neutralize the opposite emotions. He need not deliberately invoke jnAna vAsanA. It is to be noted that nidhidhyAana does not give any new knowledge. Knowledge is full and complete at the sravan stage.
5.1 A sentence is useful if it suggests positive action. A statement of fact alone does not give the result.
K2 claims that a sentence has to necessarily have a verb and a verb suggest action. If a sentence is without a verb, it is reduced to merely a jumble of words. As a verb is the most important part of any sentence, it is to be concluded that karma is the central teaching of any Veda-vakya. K2 argues that the sentences presenting Self-knowledge in the Veda do not constitute teaching. They are statements of facts without commanding any action and have no utility. For example, the statement, ‘water is available in the container’, is a statement of fact that serves no purpose. One has to follow up with the action of fetching and drinking the water. A mahAvakyaA does not have such a verb. Therefore, it does not convey the teaching of Veda.
While accepting that verb is necessary, the AchArya explains that there are two types of verbs, namely, action revealing and fact revealing, and depending on the contexts appropriate verb is to be supplied. In mahAvAkyas, ‘I am Brahman’ and ‘Thou art that’, the verbs ‘am’ and ‘art’ enable the mahAvakyas to convey information about the AtmA without applying any of the six modes of changes that action can bring about. Verse 98 of chapter 1 of NS says
“Since the sentences like, ‘that thou art’, teach the existence of reality that is revealed as self-evident, not even gods can introduce new meaning into them other than the one they already possess.” [Translation A J Alston]
Veda exhorts that moksha, i.e., liberation from the cycles of birth and death is the ultimate goal of a human being. A person escapes rebirth when his karmic (samskAr) account is nil at the time of death. Advaita Vedanta claims that with the rise of Self-knowledge (Brahman-knowledge, Self is Brahman) samskArs become nil when the body is dropped thereby putting a stop to re-birth. Roles of action and knowledge are at the core of any discussion on liberation. The main source of what follows now onwards is the class notes of lectures by SwAmi ParmArthAnanda on Naishkrama Siddhi (in short, NS) of SureswaryAchArya (in short, the Acharya) available on the website of Arsha Avinash Foundation. There are occasional references from the translation of NS by A J Alston [second edition 1971].
2 Three schools
In Updesa Sahasri (Chapter 1 of Part II) ShankarAchArya emphasizes that JnAn, independent of karma, leads to moksha. In the first chapter of NS, the AchArya undertakes a project to establish that knowledge alone is responsible for liberation. The Acharya with all humility acknowledges that the subject matters of NS have already been dealt with by his guru, ShankarAchArya and he cannot make any improvement. Verse 6 of chapter 1 of NS explains. “This Book is written, “neither to gain fame nor to earn wealth nor deferential treatment but in order to test (metal of) my own knowledge at the touch-stone of God-realized sages.” [ Reference translation by A J Alston]. As a reader goes along, he will see that the Acharya deals with the topic from various angles. No wonder, he devotes more than 90 verses of a total of 100 verses in chapter 1 of NS.