Q.520 Perception and the witness

Q: How can the mind perceive something which is outside of time, when the mind itself is caught in time like a prisoner? Perception in itself is a movement in time so how can mind even claim to perceive the concept of Brahman and say that Brahman is eternal?

A: The mind cannot perceive anything ‘outside of time’. As you say, perception occurs within time (and space). And, more to the point, that which you perceive is also within time and space. Thus, you can never perceive Brahman. But conceptions are not quite the same. The concept itself is in the mind, which is also limited. But what is conceived is not limited. You can conceive of a unicorn with no problem at all, even though you also know that they do not really exist. Scientists also conceived of black holes, long before any proof was found for their existence – and still no one has ‘really’ perceived such a thing.

But perhaps the simplest way of thinking about it is to consider deeply who you actually are. It is possible to eliminate body, sense organs, mind, and anything else that you can think of as ‘not I’. But it is not possible to eliminate the one who is doing this. There has to be an ‘ultimate subject’ after everything else has been eliminated. That is who you really are and that is Brahman.

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Book Review: European Masters – John David

Blueprints for Awakening: European Masters: Unique Dialogues with 14 European Masters on the Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi Who am I?

Premananda, Open Sky Press Ltd, Nov 2010, ISBN 978-0956607003. (350 pages).

Buy from Amazon US
Buy from Amazon UK

Note that, when I originally reviewed this book, it also included a free DVD of extracts from the interviews. This is no longer the case.

Premananda is the author of a number of books, including ‘Indian Masters: Blueprints for Awakening’, which I have reviewed at http://www.advaita.org.uk/reading/read_general.htm#blueprints. He spent 15 years with Osho, followed by another 5 with H. W. L. Poonja (Papaji) and much of his teaching now is influenced by Ramana Maharshi. He runs the Open Sky Satsang Community in Germany (between Cologne and Düsseldorf) and periodic meetings are organized throughout Europe.

(Extended biographical details may be found at his website – http://www.premanandasatsang.org/.)  

Note that, sometime during the elapsed time since I wrote this review (around 2011), he has reverted to his (presumed) birth name of John David. All reference to the name ‘Premananda’ appears to have been removed from his website and books (although the URL remains the same). I have left the words of the review itself, and the images, as they were in the original review.

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Q.519 How can one experience the bliss?

Q: In ‘The Book of One’, you say: “If our true nature were allowed the freedom to experience to the full, what then? The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad tells us that “All the joys of the entire cosmos put together would be only a small drop of the bliss of this Supreme Being. Whatever little satisfaction we have, whatever pleasures we have, whatever joys we are experiencing, whatever be the happiness of life – all this is but a reflection, a fractional distorted form, a drop, as it were, from this ocean of the Absolute.” (Ref. 7)

Is there a way to get a taste such an ocean of joy while not ‘realized’?

A: This is a good question and highlights the dangers of attempting to relate the more ‘rapturous’ statements of the scriptures to the mundane experiences of life! When the Upanishad talks about the ‘bliss of this Supreme Being’, it cannot mean this literally. Brahman is non-dual, part-less, changeless, does not ‘experience’ or ‘know’ etc. In fact, whenever the word ‘bliss’ (Ananda) is encountered, it is a good idea to substitute ‘eternal’ (ananta) so as not to risk such a thought process. (See discussions at the AV site on ‘satyaM j~nAnamanantaM brahma’.)

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Language and Color

Those people who regularly read my articles will know that, although my educational background is that of a scientist, I frequently criticize science in respect of its inability to say anything useful about the nature of reality. Because science can only operate by virtue of a subject making observations on an object, it only has validity in the empirical realm (vyavahAra). Nevertheless, I do acknowledge that science can sometimes throw light upon the thorny topics that we frequently encounter in advaita.  An obvious example of this is the findings of Benjamin Libet and Daniel Wegner regarding free will, about which I have written several times. Accordingly, I was very interested to hear recently (on a BBC Horizon program about how we perceive color) that scientists have carried out experiments which demonstrate that language affects the way in which we see the world.

I did not expect to see anything relating to advaita in the program but, when they described an experiment concerning the Himba tribe of northern Namibia, it quickly became clear that this was relevant to the vAchArambhaNa sutras from the Chandogya Upanishad.  

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Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar…

I am still trawling through old blogs and articles which I wrote around 2011, and that are no longer available on the Internet. Here is a short one which may amuse…

This is the unlikely title of a book which is ostensibly an introduction to Western Philosophy, but is perhaps better viewed as a book of themed jokes. It is not even remotely anything to do with Advaita, so I wouldn’t be happy writing a formal book review.

If you are at all interested in philosophy in general; like reading about it, without necessarily learning very much; and enjoy a good joke, then this is definitely the book for you! It has chapters on many of the key Western names and schools and each has a few paragraphs telling you very cursorily where it fits into the history and what, essentially, it deals with. But this is interspersed with witty remarks and lots of full-fledged jokes which purport to illustrate the particular branch being discussed.

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Book Review: dṛg dṛśya viveka, Clarissa

Over the next couple of months, I will be posting some book reviews that I made 10+ years ago, which are no longer available elsewhere on the Internet.

The first of these is:
dṛg dṛśya viveka, Clarissa, Lulu Press, 2010, ISBN 978-1-4452-0858-9. (171 pages), $19.62 from Amazon.com. Also available from Watkins Books, 21 Cecil Court, London WC2, £12.99.

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New Book Announcement

Confusions in Advaita Vedānta: Knowledge, Experience and Enlightenment

This is being published by Indica Books at Varanasi and may be purchased directly from them (PayPal accepted) at indicabooksindia@gmail.com.

It will also be available to buy from Amazon and I will post the links as soon as this is possible. (Note that it may still be cheaper to buy from Indica, even with postage costs, but it will obviously take longer to arrive in the West.)

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Q.518 Reincarnation and Enlightenment

Q: I have been trying to wrap my mind around the question posed here: https://www.advaita-vision.org/q-489-creation-and-reincarnation.

Specifically: if reincarnation is not actually true and is just a part of adhyaropa-apavada — then why study Advaita at all when the probability of enlightenment is so low! Seems like life efforts would be better spent then trying to maximize ephemeral happiness.

The only way I can rationalize the practical utility of advaita is to accept that reincarnation is true in vyavaharika — that its a natural law, like gravity. Is that a fair understanding or is reincarnation truly just a teaching tool?

A: Where did you get the view that the probability of enlightenment is low? I know that this is implied in a few places in the scriptures but I rather think the point there is to ensure that only those who genuinely have mumukShutva pursue these ideas. If you are merely ‘interested’, you are going to lose that interest sooner or later and return to seeking the usual gratifications of empirical life. One of the seekers in the Upanishads is ecstatic when he is told that he ‘only’ has to live another few thousand lives before gaining enlightenment!

I believe that one of the main reasons that people today think that it is extremely ‘rare’ is their notion that there is ‘intellectual’ understanding that comes relatively easily and then there is experiential understanding that is extremely difficult to acquire. This is wrong! It is the erroneous understanding in the mind that keeps us in saMsAra and the correct understanding in the mind that frees us. It is perfectly possible to gain Self-knowledge in a single lifetime if you have the determination to do so. Obviously the best way is to find a qualified teacher. Then maybe years would be enough. If you have to read books and discuss with other seekers, it could take decades – especially if you read the wrong books!

As regards reincarnation, I wouldn’t worry about that too much. Whilst you really believe that the empirical world is real, then karma and reincarnation make sense. Without them, the ‘lawful’ nature of the universe appears to break down. The ‘good’ apparently suffer while the ‘evil’ triumph. Just look upon it as a mechanism that science is unable to explain or even believe. As I said in that other question, read the book by Muni Narayana Prasad if you want to understand more.

Q.517 Karma and morality

Q: In psychology, there is a popular idea called ‘value judgements;’ it says that all assessments of whether things are good or evil are relative to the condition of one’s mind. The standard for good and bad is constantly changing and relative; good and evil is just a construct. Can this concept be reconciled with the idea of karma, that (to my understanding) can be boiled down to, moral action = positive outcome/happiness, immoral action = negative outcome/suffering. Does an action that constitutes as moral in my eyes, but immoral from another perspective still result in good karma? Isn’t it a bit selfish to assume that the causality of the world revolves around our human construct of morality?

I’d like to hear your perspective on this.

A: Not sure what you mean by ‘causality of the world revolves around our human construct of morality’. Karma operates on a personal basis. Each jIva is reborn according to their past karma. This means both in the ‘appropriate body’ and in the ‘appropriate circumstances’ to enable them to ‘redeem’ their past karma, if you like. So the particular moral outlook of the society into which they are born is relevant, irrespective of how that perspective might change over time or in different societies.

But note that this is more of the initial-interim teaching of Advaita. Since, ultimately, there is no creation and no jIva-s, there is no such thing as karma either.

I don’t disagree with what you say about value judgements but it doesn’t really enter into karma yoga. The way we should act is in response to what is in front of us, without any personal motivation, without thinking about what society might say about how we should act, and without ‘taking anything’ from the result. I.e. whether the outcome is as we might have liked or not is not part of the equation. We ‘dedicate’ action and outcome to God and drop everything after the action is complete.

You might argue that how we respond to what is in front of us is going to be determined by our past environment and genetic factors and that must be true. Can we not ‘choose’ to go against these? That would involve free-will; and that is something else that I don’t believe in!

You should stop worrying about all of these empirical aspects! They are the chains that bind you to saMsAra and will not take you anywhere useful.