Q.502 Brahman and Awareness

Q1.     Many advaita teachings suggest that on the absolute level of reality, there are no objects, no people, no selves, and many times, people will say that, ‘from awareness’ point of view, there is just awareness’… However, in my experience it seems that awareness has the ability to know finite objects because ‘I’ (awareness) am the observer of thoughts, feelings, and sensations (all finite objects). So how can we say that from awareness’ point of view there are no objects, when awareness is aware of finite things? To piggyback off of this, is there some way to differentiate between the witnessing position and the absolute viewpoint? because I think this is where I am really getting mixed up.

Q2.     Why does it seem that awareness can know something finite when it is infinite? I’ve heard from certain advaita teachers that consciousness takes the form of the mind in order to know finite objects, but this confuses me because that would imply that awareness becomes the mind, but is also simultaneously aware of the mind. It seems a little far fetched in my opinion, but maybe I’m just not understanding it completely.

A: I never use the term ‘awareness’ for precisely this sort of reason. It is a term used by Nisargadatta and his disciples and causes much confusion. I only use it in the context of X being ‘aware of’ Y, in duality.

The non-dual reality in Advaita is called Brahman, strictly speaking. Being non-dual, it has no ‘attributes’ If it had the attribute X, this would mean that it could not be ‘not-X’, which would then negate the fact that Brahman is said to be unlimited or infinite (anantam). You might find the 3-part post beginning https://www.advaita-vision.org/satyam-gyanam-anantam-brahma/ useful.

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Desire and Enlightenment

Following an extended, off-line discussion, I have added a new sub-section to Volume 1 of my next book, ‘Confusions in Advaita Vedanta’ and I am posting this below. I am currently in the process of editing the proof copy of the book and it will be published by Indica Books in Varanasi, hopefully in 2022. Details will, of course, be provided as soon as it is available. It will be printed in hardback and paperback but unfortunately not in electronic format.

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It was mentioned in 2.g that desire stems from the belief that we are lacking something in our life, and that acquiring the desired object (gross or subtle) will somehow make us complete. The fact that this appears actually to happen albeit only for a short time, if we get the object, reinforces this belief. When Self-ignorance is removed, it is realized that we actually are the complete, infinite Brahman. Accordingly, it is reasonable, natural and, indeed, inevitable that desires are effectively dissolved instantly. There is nothing other than me that I lack and could want. (The proviso here is that some desires may seem not to have disappeared because the associated action was habitual. This is discussed at length in 3.s – pratibandha-s.)

As Sureshvara puts it in his Naiṣkarmya Siddhi (1.73):

“And tell me what possible cause could there be for action on the part of one who is established in the Absolute and has become everything, both individually and collectively, not seeing anything as other than himself.” (Ref. 7)

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Q.501 Experiencing AtmA

Q: I would like to tell you about an experience I had recently.

I was walking the park and suddenly everything became clearer before my eyes and I was astonished I was like “ah….” in those few moments everything was myself and I was everything.  I was the pavement I was walking, the trees, the bushes, the fences and the whole space was filled with myself without slightest gap like water fills a sea.  I was everything and everywhere.  I was omnipresent and all pervasive. I didn’t have a specific location as I normally experience with out body a specific location.  At that very moment of experience I asked myself “what am I?” The answer very clearly and immediately dawned in me “peace, consciousness and bliss” it was an incredible experience of peace and awareness.  It left a profound peace and awareness in me that since then all my desires have disappeared and I am in total peace all the time and nothing however good or bad from the outside moves me any longer. 

Is this the experience or awareness of the Atma?

A: This is not really a question that is amenable to a short answer. There is a lot about it in my next book (‘Confusions in Advaita, Vol. 1’).

The short answer is ‘no’. You cannot ‘experience’ Atman. Experience requires an experiencer and a thing experienced – and that would be duality. You could also say that anything you experience cannot be Atman. You are Atman – the conscious experiencer – and anything experienced must be anAtman. But you might also say that, since reality is non-dual, there is only Atman-Brahman. Therefore, whatever you experience must also be Brahman.

Enlightenment is the intellectual realization of the truth of all this. It requires mental purification and then a process of listening to the teaching from a qualified teacher, clarifying any doubts through questioning and then a period of mentally going over all of this until it is clear and certain.

But your experience is not to be denigrated. It should serve as an incentive to investigate all of this properly!

Gaudapada on the Non-disappearance of the world

प्रपञ्चो यदि विद्येत निवर्तेत न संशयः ।

मायामात्रमिदं द्वैतमद्वैतं परमार्थतः ॥… १।१७

prapañco yadi vidyeta nivarteta na saṃshayaḥ |

māyāmātramidaṃ dvaitamadvaitaṃ paramārthataḥ ||… 1.17

Gaudapada: If the perceived manifold were real then certainly it would disappear. This duality (that is cognized) is mere illusion (māyā). Non-duality is (alone) the Supreme Reality.

Shankara:  If the knowledge of non-duality (turīya) be possible after the disappearance of the perceived manifold, how could non-duality be said to exist (always) while the perceptual manifold remains? This is explained thus: This would have been true if the manifold really existed. This manifold being only a false imagination, like the snake in the rope, does not really exist. There is no doubt that it would (certainly) disappear if it really existed. The snake imagined in the rope, through false conception, does not really exist and therefore does not disappear through correct understanding. Nor, similarly, does the illusion of the vision conjured up by the magician exist and then disappear as though a veil thrown over the eyes of the spectators (by the magician) were removed. Similar is this duality of the cognized universe called the Phenomenal or manifold (māyāmātraṃ dvaitaṃ) a mere illusion. Non-duality turīya like the rope and the magician (in the illustrations) is alone the Supreme Reality. Therefore the fact is that there is no such thing as the manifold about which appearance or disappearance can be predicated.

Nikhilananda: The manifold does not exist in the sense of a separate Reality. If it had any such existence then alone could it obstruct the eternally non-dual nature of the turīya by the appearance (of the manifold). If anyone says that the manifold disappears, that is only because he believes in its reality. But this is not the Truth, because the appearance of the manifold is only an illusion and not a reality.

People say that duality disappears only because they believe in its reality. But really duality does not exist, therefore it does not disappear. If anyone believes in the reality of such illusory appearance then can one believe in the reality of the disappearance.

Extracts from:

The Mandukya Upanishad with Gaudapada’s Karika and Shankara’s Commentary, Translated by Swami Nikhilananda, Advaita Ashrama, 1932. No ISBN.

Q. 500 Thinking about chidābhāsa

Q: How can I be sure that the true nature of Brahman is happiness? Also, can Brahman’s nature be happiness if happiness has objective qualities, and Brahman doesn’t?

A: Brahman cannot be described. If it had a property, it would have to ‘not have’ the opposite property. And Brahman is non-dual – there is nothing other than Brahman. All ‘adjectives’ apparently used to describe Brahman are not in fact adjectives in the usual sense. They are ‘pointers’ to help you to understand Brahman intuitively.

Read my answer to Q. 446 – https://www.advaita-vision.org/q-446-satyam-jnanam-anantam-brahma/

Read the 3-part post on the subject beginning https://www.advaita-vision.org/satyam-gyanam-anantam-brahma/

Q: Oftentimes in my inquiry, phrases will pop up that say, ‘I am not thought,’ ‘I am not that which I am aware of,’ ‘I am the awareful witness,’; however, aren’t these phrases simply just contained, and being said by thoughts themself, thus invalidating their truthfulness? – thought is not awareness, thought is thought.

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Q.499 Svadharma

Q: On your website ‘Advaita vision’” in the article ‘Consciousness, Ego and Self-knowledge’ is the axiom mentioned that the subject (observer) is different from the object (observed):  the Seer-Seen discrimination (dŗg dŗśya viveka). Are there other such fundamental axioms within Advaita Vedanta and if so, can you give an overview of the main ones?

A: I would say there are not really ‘axioms’ in Advaita. What there are is ‘prakriyā-s’. These are teaching ‘techniques’ to help you to an understanding. The end-point of the teaching – that there is only Brahman, the world is mithyā and you are Brahman – is not provable. It is ‘realized’ to be true when you have listened to the teaching and cleared any doubts. Hence ‘Self-realization’. Seer-seen discrimination is a practical exercise to bring you to the understanding that anything that you are aware of cannot be ‘you’; that you are the ‘ultimate subject’. Read any good book on the essentials of Advaita and other prakriyā-s will be given.

Q: Thank you for your almost instant reply and clear explanation. 

First I would like to complement you with your website, which carries a valuable treasure of information. I am exploring every part. Secondly I would like to ask your reflections on a question I have.

Background
In our daily western life I see many people unhappily following the path they are on, not having the strength to make a change. In my view this is mainly the result from the way they are (more fundamentally) conditioned: materialistic, externally and scientifically oriented, as well as having a strict dualistic paradigm. At the same time I see how difficult it is for most of the Westerners to switch to a (more spiritual oriented) approach of introspection, in finding a more profound meaning in life and happiness. As I am convinced the ‘internal way’ is ‘the only way out’ in finding real happiness, I have adopted a personal mission: the endorsing of the spiritual regeneration of people around me. The challenge I faced was finding an approach to make this successful, instead of annoying people with my convictions. 

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Q.498 Brahman and Appearance

Q: How can we be sure that Brahman is transcendent of the level of appearance? How can we rule out the possibility that it is imperceptible due to the limitations of our mind? Could Brahman be similar to that of a higher dimensional being that is non accessible to human minds, but able to be perceived on higher levels of reality? And wouldn’t this then invalidate claims of it being infinite and eternal, given that these are constructs built on the idea that Brahman is non-phenomenal?

Also, how can we make the connection between ishvara (creator), and sakshi (awareful witness)? Are they both referring to the same being? I am confused.

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Discussion of Advaita

I feel it would be valuable to remind ourselves of the way in which we should engage in discussions about the posts that are made to the site. For this, I have located several messages to the Advaitin List, dating back to 1994(!) from Ram Chandran and Dr. Sadanananda.

First of all, the dctionary definitions:
saMvAda – speaking together, conversation, colloquy with; assent, concurrence, agreement with

vAda – speech, proposition, discourse, argument, discussion, explanation or exposition (of scriptures etc.); dispute with the aim of reaching the right conclusion, irrespective of who ‘wins’. 

jalpa – talk, speech, discourse; disputation with ‘overbearing and disputed rejoinder’; arguing for the sake of winning, irrespective of who is right. 

vitaNDa – cavil, fallacious controversy, perverse or frivolous argument, criticism; argument purely for the sake of winning the point.  

kutarka – fallacious argument, sophistry

Now for the historical posts. Apologies for any repetition in these, which is bound to be present, since the same points are being made:

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Q. 497 Knowledge and Understanding

Q: Knowledge, which is in or of the mind or intellect, must ultimately be given up. So really, is it knowledge or just ‘pointers’ to the truth of things? Like the pole vaulter letting go of the pole to get over the bar, the mind must be given up or let go of, which includes the knowledge. So really, knowledge isn’t the key or final secret. Simply abiding as Consciousness (what we really are), is the real point of all of this. 

And, witnessing seems to be of two ‘kinds’:
. Subject-object witnessing the normal person does all day
. The non-experiencing witness, which is the pure Consciousness that sees all within itself. I.e. like the analogy of the movie screen and movie. 

Really, it can be summed up by the fact that knowledge is not the key but only a pointer to ‘what really is’, which is the non-experiencing Witness. 

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Q.496 Karma and subtle body

Q:

1. If upon the death of a jivan-mukta person, the subtle body dissolves and the person does not have go through the cycle of birth and death, this would imply that my sole motivation for attaining enlightenment should be the liberation of the subtle body that resides inside this gross body (since that is what suffers from one birth to another). Does this not in some way refute the idea of realising myself as the supreme consciousness bliss?

2. How is it that law of karma stops to act only on an enlightened being when in essence we are all liberated from the beginning?

3. On living while following the path of karma yoga, how do I decide what actually is the right thing to do in one’s life assuming I don’t have any desires? What Arjuna did in those days was the traditional work assigned to kshatriyas but in present day, since there is no acceptance of the traditional caste system, how do I come to decide what I should do? As a karma yogi has no desires, does all for the Lord, but the problem is coming to know what is to be done and that too, without any desire or attachment. What occupation should be taken or should one retire as a monk?

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