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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Q.458 Taoism

Q: I am just back from a vacation in Greece where I enjoyed a few days of reading Taoism: living in the spirit of Tao is the easy way of just floating with the stream of life. This means just living from our intuition instead of using our intellect performing the mental acrobatics of Advaita Vedanta. Indeed, as Wittgenstein pointed out correctly, one should remain silent instead of speaking (words are merely hindering tautologies) the unspeakable.

We lost our so-called enlightenment through our education/conditioning which did not happen where people still live (or lived) in harmony with the ‘natural flow of life’. This also means that, for us to recover enlightenment, life (Tao) is the only teacher and no so-called person should be considered a teacher.

A: It is certainly true that silence avoids the ambiguity of words! But since our problem is one of Self-ignorance, clearly knowledge is needed. I don’t believe that life can bring you that knowledge. My own experience is that life tends to increase identification and sense of separation. I suggest that most people leave life with greater Self-ignorance than they had to begin with. The words of Advaita do not, in any case, speak the truth; they merely point to it.

It is not the case that we begin our life in an enlightened state. ‘Enlightenment’ means Self-knowledge, not innocence. Innocence has much more in common with ignorance! In any case, are not education and conditioning an inevitable part of life? In which case, if life brought us to this condition, how should more life now remove it?

Living a life of tranquility, away from the trials of modern life at one with nature might well be very nice (though not very practicable for most people). But it would not bring about Self-knowledge!

Q.457 Using meditation to ‘find the self’

Q: Undaunted by my belief that meditation to find the self (soul) is difficult, I would like to try, but there are no teachers in my area. Therefore, in the first instance, I would really appreciate your advice regarding a book to follow for this type of meditation that is suitable for a beginner.

A: The purpose of meditation is to help gain control of the mind and senses so that you can cultivate dispassion and discrimination and still the mind when listening to the teacher.

Meditation cannot enable you to ‘find the self’. You are already the Self – you just have not realized this. What has to happen is for the mind to receive knowledge about the Self, clear any misunderstandings, resolve any doubts etc. Ideally, you need a qualified teacher for this – someone who knows the truth and is able to convey the relevant steps (via story, metaphor etc.) to help someone else come to the same understanding.

As an introduction to Advaita, there are three books I would recommend:

1. ‘Introduction to Vedanta’ by K. Sadananda – see https://www.advaita-vision.org/vedanta-introduction-sadananda/;

2. ‘Book of One’ (2nd edition) by myself – http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/thebook/thebook.htm;

3. ‘VEDĀNTA the solution to our fundamental problem’ by D. Venugopal (This is serialized at the website (https://www.advaita-vision.org/vedanta-the-solution-part-1/).

Q.456 The ‘hard’ problem

Q: Could you say something about the relationship between the ‘hard problem’ of consciousness in modern science and Advaita’s māyā?

A: Science’s problem is trying to explain how consciousness can ‘emerge’ from inert matter. Advaita’s problem is trying to explain how the world can emerge from Consciousness.

The concept of māyā is an interim explanation only. If it satisfies the listener and moves them forward towards accepting non-duality, then it has served its purpose. Ultimately, it is rejected by Advaita. There is only Consciousness. There cannot be Consciousness and a force called māyā.

Every(seeming)thing is non-dual Consciousness. There only seems to be separate things because our mind differentiates forms and gives them names. Just as in the clay-pot metaphor.

The concept of mithyā is better for ‘explaining’ the nature of the world. The world is not real ‘in itself’; it depends upon Consciousness for its existence just as the pot depends upon clay.

There is an essay – ‘Consciousness – not such a hard problem’ – on precisely this topic in my book ‘Western Philosophy Made Easy: A Personal Search for Meaning’.

Q.455 Physical changes on enlightenment

Q: In his book of talks called ‘The New Freedom’, Rajneesh (Osho) has stated that awakening disturbs the body and brain so much that a majority of people leave the body. Those who survive may suffer some severe physical deformity or inability to speak etc.

In the Gospel of Ramakrishna, Mahendranath Gupta relates how the Paramahamsa suffered on awakening. One of the changes that occurred was an enormous release of energy in the body which was unbearable. Adyashanti also states that the disturbance of the nervous system takes years to settle down. In ‘The Mystique of Enlightenment’, U. G. Krishnamurti has described at length the many drastic changes that took place in his body on account of awakening. In ‘Nothing is Everything’, a book on talks given by Nisargadatta Maharaj, the Sage is quoted as saying: “This body is on fire. Self-knowledge has a strange quality. Sometimes it is unbearable”.

What I want you to throw some light on, if possible, is the following:

Does awakening lead to drastic physical changes? Are they the same for all individuals or do these changes vary from person to person? Should one be deterred from attempting self-realization?

Steven Norquist, who claims to have awakened, told his audience in a 2010 talk available on the internet, that they should not seek awakening but should be ‘spiritual’. One of the reasons he mentioned was the bodily changes I have referred to.

I would also be obliged if you could suggest some literature on the subject, if it exists.

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‘Not Two’ – a Critical Review

On the face of it, this is a well-written and readable book, ideally suited for a new seeker. E.g. the sections on ‘The Illusory Nature of the Separate Self’ and ‘Knowledge Dispels Ignorance’ are excellent.

Unfortunately, should any reader accept everything that is written at its face value, they will come away with some serious confusions. In what follows, I apologize in advance for some of what may seem to be harsh criticisms, but my own perception of these points is heightened as a result of spending the last year writing my own work on ‘confusions’ of precisely this sort.

The author uses the traditional teaching method of adhyāropa-apavāda but it is not made clear when what is being said is only provisional. Also, there are very few references to the source of what is being presented. (And one of those that is provided doesn’t exist!) There are many places where the author writes ‘as Shankara said’ but scarcely a single pointer to where he said it. There are numerous places where I, as an informed reader, need those references before I will even consider what is being said to be credible!

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Q.454 How should one live one’s life?

Q: One of the problems I encounter with Advaita is that, even though it makes sense and resonates with me, it does not help from the point of view of providing guidelines on how to live my life. If we consider Buddhism, for example, we find a clear path on how to live one’s live that goes in accordance with the deeper philosophical explanations of what reality is, etc.

This is the part in which I find myself discouraged and not knowing how to move forward. What could you tell me about this? What would you recommend that I read?

A: All of the guidance given by Advaita regarding ‘how to live’ is directed at preparing the mind so that it is optimally able to gain Self-knowledge. Once this has happened, you know that in reality there is no world, there are no persons. ‘Life’ is just the apparent movement of forms of Brahman.

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Natural Realism

Natural Realism and Contact Theory of Perception : Indian Philosophy’s Challenge to Contemporary Paradigms of Knowledge, Chittaranjan Naik, Notion Press, 2019. ISBN 978-1-64678-012-9. 

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A challenging but worthwhile read

[Note that the conventional view of how we perceive objects is what is called the Representational theory of perception. This is the belief that light rays from a source hit the object and are reflected to the eye of the observer. The light is focused by the eye onto the retina, where it triggers responses in receptors. Electrical signals are generated, which pass along the optic nerve and thence to the visual cortex of the brain. Something else then happens to make us somehow reconstruct an image of the original object. It is this representation that is actually perceived and not the object itself. 

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