Q.540 Following Bhakti Yoga

A: There are two main points here.

First, since you are asking a question about Advaita, you must appreciate that, in reality there is only Brahman, or Consciousness. From the empirical standpoint, of course, you see a dualistic world with other people etc. and, from this point of view, it is not unreasonable to speak of a god, or gods. But anything to do with this empirical point of view has to be provisional only. It all has to be acknowledged as simply name and form of that non-dual reality eventually. That ‘acknowledgement’, and the firm belief that it is true, is what we call ‘enlightenment’.

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Meaning of anubhava

The Sanskrit term that is interpreted by many modern teachers as ‘experience’ is anubhava. And indeed ‘experience’ is one of the translations given by Monier-Williams, along with the expansion “knowledge gained from personal observation or experiment”. (Ref. 179) But words such as ‘understanding’ and ‘apprehension’ are also given and these are much closer to the intended meaning.

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Q.538 Duḥkha and Stress

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Q.537 Need for a Guru

A: It is highly desirable to have a qualified, traditional guru. There do not seem to be many of these around today and it is unlikely that you happen to have one conveniently close by! Consequently, the best you can do is to read books that reliably present material in the traditional manner (unfolding scriptural texts and Shankara commentaries) and listen to recorded talks from similarly reliable sources.

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Q.536 Experience of death

A: Advaita is a teaching that has various ‘interim’ explanations, which are given to seekers at different ‘levels’. Ideally you would ally yourself with a living, traditional teacher who would take you from the ‘beginner’ level to the ‘advanced’, probably over many years.

The final truth is that there is only Brahman (Consciousness). The world and all of the people – past, present and future – are not real in themselves; they are simply name and form of Brahman. A ‘person’ appears to exist as a separate entity because Consciousness ‘animates’ the inert body-mind. Who-you-really-are is that Consciousness and NOT the body-mind. Now and always, you are that Consciousness. It is an interim teaching that speak about karma and reincarnation.

(Note that Nisargadatta, Ramana and Vivekananda, as well as all the modern ‘satsang’ teachers who travel around giving short talks and Q&A session are not traditional teachers. They often have some good and helpful things to say but unfortunately also frequently cause confusion. You should also note that Nisargadatta uses the word ‘awareness’, when practically all other teachers use ‘Consciousness’. That, alone causes much confusion! Also, you should pay no credence to so-called NDEs. Modern science has far more reasonable explanations for them, such as flood of neurotransmitters as the brain functions fail.)

Q.535 Transmigrating Soul

A: Glad you find the site useful. I presume you know that I hardly ever change the advaita.org.uk site these days. All of the new material goes to https://www.advaita-vision.org/ and has done for the past 10+ (?) years.

The ‘truth’ of Advaita is that there is only Brahman. ‘Everything’ is Brahman. ‘You’ are Brahman. And, pedantically, that is all you can really say. But of course simply telling someone that is unlikely to enlighten them! Accordingly, there are lots of ‘prakriyā-s’ (ways of explaining things, stories, techniques etc.) to help seekers move their understanding in the right direction. Traditional Advaita has many of these, proven over several thousand years to be helpful in explaining things. For example, karma and reincarnation are fundamental to these. The jīva is ‘trapped’ in saṃsāra – the eternal round of birth and death – until Self-knowledge dawns and saṃsāra is ended. But this is only a prakriyā. In reality, there is only Brahman. There has never been any creation and no one has ever been born, let alone re-born.

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Q.534 Purpose and Meaning

Q: Advaita Vedanta has caused me two persistent difficulties. Firstly its argument that we are dependent upon Brahman, yet Brahman has no dependence; secondly that since we cannot know Brahman, only be It.

The questions concerning the meaning of life and why we are here will find no answer, beyond the speculative in vyavahAra. It’s just that statements such as these come across as rather negative, divisive and, particularly, dismissive. This is not what I expected from ‘not two’!

But, undeterred, and mindful that Advaita advises that its own teachings must eventually be left behind, I’ve moved towards a more all-inclusive perspective…. (I hope). You, Sir, seem perfectly at ease with the notion of ‘no choice’; and you present a flawless case for its validity, with which I can only concur. However, actually facing it is terrifying. Fortunately, familiarity offers a happier and unshakable strength in the ‘surrender’, although this is not an on/off situation – more a ‘work in progress’ lasting a lifetime.

So my question (if you’re still awake) is: where is ‘enjoying the journey’; joie de vivre; ‘experience’ as the key to unlock the understanding we seek? If living it can assist so well in making sense of it, why does Shankara always want to go the long way round?

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Q.533 Value of practice

Q: Do you know of any effective (tried and true) praxis methods for Advaita? Meditations, contemplations, visualizations, prayers, mantras, hymns, and so on. Particularly methods that nurture the understanding of the mahavakyas. I’ve been meditating daily and I’m open to different approaches.

I suppose I might do okay with reading, rereading, fathoming, and contemplating the mahavakyas, one by one. But if there are already good praxis methods out there, I’d love to give them a try.

A: The ‘problem’ is Self-ignorance and the ONLY remedy for this is Self-knowledge, which comes from scriptures, ideally interpreted/explained by a qualified teacher.

Having said that, the only value of any practice is to enable the above or enhance the ability of the mind/intellect to do the above. sādhana catuṣṭaya sampatti tells you what practices are of value. But practicing to the extent that you are able to still the mind at will and give all your attention to what is front of you, dropping desires etc., is of no value (as far as Advaita is concerned) unless you give that attention to scriptures/teacher.

You do that in the form of shravaṇa-manana and then go away and regurgitate-reassimilate that until it is fully accepted. ‘Doing’ of any sort, such as learning shruti by heart, singing mantras, trekking to the Himalyas etc. is not going to achieve anything.

Q. 532 Brahman, name and form

Q: To speak of levels or to even say ‘name and form’, isn’t technically correct, is it? There’s only Brahman – period. I ask or say this because it does make a big difference between understanding and ‘living it’.

A: You are right. Pedantically there is only Brahman and even that is saying too much. But all transactions take place in vyavahAra (often referred to as ‘transactional reality’) and that obviously includes the teaching itself. That is why we have words like ‘mithyA’, so we can acknowledge the appearance of duality. We undeniably perceive form and refer to it by name, but acknowledge that it is mithyA – owing its substantial existence to Brahman.

Q: Having this final understanding, does the Mithya go on as:
1. As Ashtavakra Gita says… “a dry leaf being blown in the wind”? 
Or
2. An actor knowing he’s an actor and playing roles like a movie?

A: The reasoning behind metaphors is to nudge the mind into appreciating the teaching of something that is counter-intuitive. Once you have ‘got it’, the metaphor should be dropped. The nature of the remainder of the life of a j~nAnI will be dictated by their individual prArabdha karma so will be different for everyone.