Q: After reading and listening to non-duality teachers I got to know that there is nothing that can be done; there is nothing to attain and nothing to achieve. Whatever ‘is’, simply is.
So what should we do actually? After knowing this truth how should we live our life? Earlier I wanted to do sAdhana to attain self-realization and enlightenment. Now I have understood that it is the ego which is asking that.
Now in my life I have a feeling that, whatever activity I undertake, it’s just about keeping my mind and body engaged. Be it any activity – reading a book, doing meditation, working at the office – I feel that there is a separation between ‘I’ and the ‘mind’. When an activity or any kind of work starts, then the Mind and body are involved in it but I am separate from all of them. When the activity finishes, I again have my body and mind available to be engaged in another activity.
A: You seem not to be differentiating between absolute and empirical reality (paramArtha and vyavahAra). From the absolute viewpoint, there is only Brahman so that doing, enjoying, knowing etc. have no meaning – there is no one, no thing. But from the empirical perspective – from your personal viewpoint – there is a world and people. And there are j~nAnI-s and aj~nAnI-s (people who know the truth and those who do not). If you do not know the truth, you will suffer in life, so what can (and should!) be done is to find out the truth: that who-you-really-are is Brahman. Of course it is the ego that wants to do this but this desire is the one desire that is not only permissible, it should be encouraged!
Once your mind truly and irrevocably knows the truth (this is the meaning of being ‘enlightened’), you can then do whatever happens to be your svadharma or ‘calling’. This may just be carrying on doing your everyday job, living a family life, or whatever. But you may need to continue nididhyAsana in the form of study, reading, teaching, discussing Advaita so that the Self-knowledge is consolidated and you benefit from peace and happiness etc. for the remainder of the jIva’s life.
Q: Talks that I have been listening to use the terms ‘witness’, ‘eternal witness’ and other synonyms. Is pure consciousness or Brahman this ‘Ultimate Witness’? If so, obviously, it can’t witness unless there’s a manifesting medium to do so, correct? But ‘to witness’ implies duality. Also, it is often said that Brahman is transcendent or beyond the body-mind, and something other than the mithyA universe. So that means, again, that it can witness everything.
How do you reconcile the fact that knowledge is in the mind with Brahman being the witness beyond and apart from it? And how does this fit in with non-duality – there can’t be two things?
A: The effective explanation is ‘adhyAropa-apavAda’. The reality is that there is only non-dual Brahman or Consciousness. You begin with the conviction that the world is real, you are your body etc. Advaita gradually disabuses you of such notions by use of prakriyA-s (teaching ‘ploys’) such as analysis of the states of consciousness, cause and effect, real and unreal, seer and seen. Each of these takes you a little further in understanding. But, once the particular example has served its purpose, it is discarded. Analogy and metaphor can only take one so far; they are means to an end. Metaphors to illustrate this are leaving the boat behind once you have crossed the river, and letting go of the pole in pole vaulting before you go over the bar.
Q: Do you have the perfect definition of Consciousness as per Advaita Vedanta?
A: Traditional Advaita prefers to use ‘Brahman’ as referring to the absolute reality, although the aitareya upaniShad says ‘praj~nAnaM brahma’, which is translated as ‘Consciousness is Brahman’. Probably the most famous ‘definition’ (as far as that is possible) is the one in the Taittiriya Upanishad (2.1.1): satyam j~nAnam anantam brahma – Brahman is real/truth/existence – knowledge/consciousness – limitless.
And in 3.1.2, the same Upanishad says that one should strive to know that from which all these beings are born, that in which they live and exist, and that to which they return – that is Brahman.
Brahman is the sRRiShTi sthiti laya kAraNa – the cause of the creation, maintenance and destruction of everything.
And so on! There are lots of ‘pointers’ but no definition as such, as explained in the answers above.
Q: Maybe I’m asking about consciousness with a lower case ‘c’ – I just want to know how you would define that word.
A: Nothing special here. The Sanskrit word is ‘chit’. Swami Dayananda’s definition is ‘limitless self-effulgent awareness; the self-revealing’. The book ‘A-U-M’ tells you all about the ‘states of consciousness’ and that their ‘substratum’ is turIya. See the article I wrote about ‘states’ of consciousness (https://www.advaita-vision.org/states-of-consciousness-2-3-4-and-1-2/).
Some time ago (31st Oct 2020), during our prolonged discussions (beginning early Sept 2020) upon whether the world literally disappears when a jIva gains enlightenment (Ramesam and Venkat say that it does and I deny that), Ramesam asked me to provide references to support comments that I had made. Since this topic is very relevant to Volume 2 of my book on ‘Confusions in Advaita’, I have been researching and writing about it for the past 6 months. Since the various aspects now take up some 30,000 words plus, I will not be posting any more material – you will have to wait for publication of the book, unfortunately unlikely to be before 2023.
Apologies to readers who will find that this post is not particularly readable or directly helpful. The book presents all of the arguments in a logical and readable manner, only using the indicated quotations as supporting material. Here, the references only are presented solely to complete the earlier discussions and provide ‘answers’ to Ramesam and Venkat as the pUrvapakShin-s.
Q: I am struggling to understand where reality ends and mithyA begins.
I understand that everything in my experience is Consciousness. But I cannot reconcile this with seeing ‘things’ in the ‘world’. I appreciate that, if I am Brahman, meaning that my little jIva consciousness is actually Brahman, then it is my consciousness that is generating this entire perception of nature and mammals. In other words, the only thing going on with the ‘jIva seeing world and objects’ is Consciousness.
But what is going on for the animals and objects? Are they really there or not? Are they appearing just through my human mind via Brahman/Consciousness? Are there no objects in reality? When I see a leopard, all that is real is Consciousness seeing Consciousness? Then how are the leopards appearing with so much complexity and purpose?
I realize that time and space are appearing in Consciousness; I realize that leopards are appearing in Consciousness. But what are they? Do you have any way to answer this that doesn’t rely on the Advaita Vedanta language since that language isn’t getting through to me? I.e. dependent reality, Ishvara, mAyA, mithyA: none of these words seem to be pointing me in the right direction.
Q: I know that Brahman is not an object I can find; I think of it more like the realization that I am the tenth man (you know this story I assume). But when I have this sort of realization (I have a lot of them), I can’t tell whether I am realizing Brahman or something else.
One set of realizations involves a sort of inner presence that reveals itself like existence-consciousness-limitless, and I feel it as present in my heart region. It’s very deep and real and it does not come and go like an experience. It gets covered up by my thoughts and emotions, but it’s always there.
Another set of realizations involve a sense that the world of objects is not actually there because the objects are made of consciousness rather than matter.
So my question is: Is Self-realization something you discover in your heart like a presence of happiness or of a consciousness that doesn’t ever come and go but only seems to be obscured by thoughts? Or is self-realization the knowledge that all the objects in the world and mind are made of only consciousness, in the way that dream objects are made of dream-consciousness?
I believe that Advaita Vedanta is saying that somehow nothing exists other than consciousness and thus the objects that appear (including the mind and subtle realm) are not made of matter but rather are ‘made of’ consciousness. Is this correct?
Q: Lord krishna advises Arjuna that Anatma alone is killed. Can meat eaters extend the argument to their killing for food?
A: Matter is anAtma and is inert. It depends for its existence on Brahman.
All life forms manifest Consciousness to some degree. Man is unique in having an intellect that ‘reflects’ Consciousness, enabling self-awareness.
Everything is brahman, being just name and form. Nothing is ever born in reality. Nothing can be ‘killed’ in the sense of destroying Consciousness, which is eternal and unchanging. It is only anAtma that can change its form but it cannot be destroyed either (c.f. conservation of mass-energy).
Within the context of that understanding, therefore, it is a question of ethics, custom, upbringing and so on that dictates one’s attitude to the ‘right to life’ of the various species. Man has to eat to maintain the body and everything that is eaten for that purpose either is or has been alive.
The topic of ahiMsA is key to Jain and Buddhist philosophies. It is not a particular issue in Advaita. Its mention in the Gita is probably rather due to its significance for Yoga philosophy.
Q: There is potential confusion between ‘knowing about it’ and actually ‘being it’; between ‘self-realization’ and ‘self-actualization’. ‘Knowing about it’ is in the mind, whereas ‘being it’ has nothing to do with the mind. Along these lines is why Nisargadatta always said that who-we-really are is prior to the body-mind and Consciousness and to leave them alone.
What are your thoughts about all this?
A: Basically, we are already Brahman. The problem is that we do not know it. Remove the ignorance and we realize the truth. You cannot ‘experience’ or ‘perceive’ Brahman. You can only realize that we are it. Hence, the term ‘anubhava’ is misunderstood and modern teachers have been propagating a misunderstanding of the teaching. The term ‘self-actualization’ is definitely a modern one, I think, and can mean nothing. How can you ‘make actual’ what is already the case?Continue reading →
Q:Thank you for your website. It is a precious treasure.
I am a Transmission Acarya in Japanese Shingon Buddhism, I have studied and taught siddham for over 25 years. My Wife (also a Shingon Priest) and I have Temples and teach in Fresno, California and Nara, Japan.
In our tradition each vibration is separate and distinct although each letter is a thousand gates. Each letter has multiple levels of understanding as we move towards awakening. We have taught the role of advaya (JP: Funi -not two) and have spent several hundred hours in jñana (from the Buddhist Perspective). Our group is small with about 60 regular attendees at our seminars, This size gives us the depth of vibration to reach states that are beyond an individuals experience.
I have been a member of the advaitin group for many years but I was inactive. When it moved to the new site I began to receive the numerous treasures that were hidden within the messages and texts. I now look at each word from the perspective of siddham. This allows me to open to a larger perspective. Some of the discussions have led me to experience the advaita realm rather than the advaya realm. I especially benefitted from the effect of understanding the advaita explanation of the the burnout of the causal body after extended periods in the realm of jñana. The advaita explanation matched perfectly with not only my experience but the experience of many of my students.Continue reading →
Q: Shankara often wrote the descriptor “pure Consciousness” to point to Brahman.
1. What does “pure Consciousness” have to do with conventional consciousness, as in “I’m conscious of this or that?” Does chidabhasa explain it?
A: chidAbhAsa is the best metaphor, I think, (it is pratibimba vAda and associated with vivaraNa). The other main one is avachCheda vAda, associated with bhAmatI, which uses the idea of upAdhi-s. Consciousness (big ‘C’) is typically used to refer to non-dual reality; ‘c’onsciousness is the manifestation of ‘C’onsciousness in the mind of man.
2. Is there a difference between Consciousness (as-if paramartha level) and existence?
A: As you know (!) you cannot define or say anything objective about Consciousness. Ideally you should read the long Shankara commentary on satyam j~nAnam anantam brahma in Taittiriya Upanishad 2.1. That explains how such ‘descriptions’ work. The adjectives qualify-support-limit each other so that you do not take any single one as in any way a descriptive attribute. If you want, you could say that Brahman is limitless-existence-consciousness. But at the pAramArthika level, you cannot say anything at all about Brahman!
3. If there is a difference, which is more fundamental: Consciousness or existence? I.e. which gives rise to which? Why (not the other way)?
A: I cannot really add anything to the previous answer.