About Peter

I am a student of traditional Vedanta, in London, an interest that started in 1970s. Current Influences: In 2007 I attended a talk by Swamini Atmaprakasananda on Ganapati Atharvashirsha – and knew I had found my teacher. I am current Secretary of Arsha Vidya Centre UK, an organisation established to make available in the UK the teaching of traditional advaita as unfolded by Swaminiji and her own teacher, the illustrious HH Swami Dayananda Saraswatiji, the most respected teacher of traditional advaita. www.arshavidya.org.uk

Īśvara (the Lord), prayer and worship 1/2

http://earthstation1.simplenet.comOne of the more difficult ideas for some Western seekers to accept is God, the Lord. The usual picture is of a highly judgmental white-bearded figure, sitting in heaven, dispensing punishments and rewards. God, in this picture, is all-controlling, all-powerful and thus I am small and insignificant and a mere pawn in his game. This sort of idea of the Lord is also prevalent in the East. For the godless, prayer and worship obviously have no place, and for the theists, prayer and worship are ultimately to secure a place in heaven or worldly comforts and pleasures. In one of her talks to her London students, Swāminī Ātmaprakāśānanda put all of this into perspective so that anyone with an open mind could get a wider, more liberating vision of these important and vital matters. This part deconstructs the concept of Lord…

What is this world? The world is nothing but a world of objects – different objects, perceptible through different senses. You can reduce the whole universe into five types of objects, perceptible through the five different senses. Every object becomes as good as non-existent if it is not perceived by the appropriate sense organ.

Despite its size, the universe would be as good as non-existent if you didn’t perceive it. The universe has the status of being existent only when it is perceived by you. The Gītā says: “They say the sense powers are superior (to sense objects); the mind is superior to the sense organs; the intellect is superior to the mind. Whereas the one who is superior to the intellect is He (ātmā).” (BhG 3.42) Continue reading

Gita for day-to-day living.

BGKrishnaArjuna-1If one sets aside its key teaching of knowledge of Reality (Brahma vidya) and viewed the Gītā primarily as a manual for right living in preparation for a life committed to self-enquiry (yoga śāstra), we discover how immensely practical it is. What might seem esoteric when clothed in mystical symbolism or religious language turns out to be common sense when stripped to its essence. Below the dialogue from some distant battlefield is viewed as a form of inner dialogue that involves the aspect of oneself that is battling for self-mastery (Arjuna) and that aspect of oneself that is one’s own true nature (Kṛṣṇa). The other players in this battle are aspects of human nature that either obstruct our efforts to be happy or support them.* With this in mind… Continue reading

Are you just happy or really, truly happy?

happy sam2Ānanda is of two types): ātmā ānanda and koṣa ānanda (we will retain the word ānanda without translation because it loses its expressiveness in translation). We need to understand the difference between these two types of ānanda before entering into the enquiry.

Ātmā ānanda means fullness – the very nature of one’s own self. Every individual’s intrinsic nature (svarūpam) is ānanda. Vedānta says: you are happiness, because you are fullness. Just as heat is the intrinsic, inseparable property of fire, so too happiness or fullness is the real nature of the individual. Continue reading

Kaṭha Upaniṣad Review

The Kaṭhopaniṣad with Śaṅkarabhāṣyam
Based on Swami Paramārthānanda’s lecture
Compiled by Divyajñāna Sarojini Varadarājan

The main teaching of the Kaṭha Upaniṣad is Death’s response to the request by a young seeker, Naciketas, for Self-knowledge. Any serious student of advaita will want to know the answer as this is our own question too: using logic we may well be able to arrive at what we are not, but we still need to know clearly what we are. For this reason this book by Smt. Sarojini Varadarajan, based on Swami Paramarthananda’s traditional unfoldment of the Upaniṣad and Śaṅkara’s commentary theron, is a valuable addition to any seeker’s library.

One way of approaching this Upaniṣad is to note that Naciketas standing at Death’s door (literally) remained steady-minded enough to press his request for Self-knowledge – in spite of Death’s initial resistance to answer. And, by the end of the Upaniṣad, after Death finally gave in to the young man’s request, Naciketas ‘became pure and immortal’. Is it really possible that we can also reach the same point by closely following the teaching that Naciketas hears, especially as we are living lives grounded in fear? Continue reading

Can you accept that the world is mithyā? – 2/2

Read Part 1

It is extremely difficult to accept that what we see, what we experience, what we take to be real is not quite real. Even Swami Dayananda wrote of his utter shock on realising that the solid universe is made up of nothing but words and meanings. I personally remember the first time I saw his demonstration of close-up magic when he held up a clay tea cup in the meeting hall, one hot afternoon in his Gurukulam in Anaikatti. “What am I holding?” he asked and then answered for us: “You say cup, I say clay. Tell me which bit of this is cup? My fingers touch clay, the weight of what you call cup is the weight of clay. The feel of the cup is the feel of clay. The colour of the cup is the colour of clay. Where is the cup? Is it on the clay? If it is I can remove it. Maybe it is in the clay?” In this way, as we watched, the thing called ‘cup’ vanished in front of our very eyes. ‘Cup’ is nothing but the name given to a particular form of clay for the sake of distinguishing it from other things made of clay and all other things as well.

Now extend this to all objects that can be traced back to a common cause: even science supports this view. Then at each stage we just have names: Shirt is the name of a form of material, material is the name of yarn, yarn of cotton, cotton of fibres, fibres of atoms, atoms of sub-atomic particles, etc till we arrive at a single cause. (Vedānta śāstram goes one step further than science in stepping from the perceptible to the non-perceptible world.) Continue reading

Can you accept that the world is mithyā? – 1/2

As long as I believe in the absolute reality of the things around me, as long as I believe in the absolute reality of the body-mind amalgam, and further, as long as I believe that the body-mind amalgam is Me, I will be insecure and unhappy. Why? Because, if the world is real and this body-mind amalgam is real then threat and danger surround me: the treat may be to my life and wellbeing but, more often than not, my fragile ego is vulnerable to outside events and circumstances.

There is always someone richer or cleverer or wiser or more beautiful or more influential than me. In their presence I am unworthy and powerless. Poor unworthy me could lose all my friends to more attractive people, to cleverer people or to richer or more powerful people. I live my life dreading the moment that I will be found out to be a fraud or lose my job. Deep down I believe I am unlovable and that I will end my days sad and lonely. My fragile body-mind amalgam is not really up to the onslaught from the more powerful forces of the universe. I am not good enough to gain all the security I need to cushion myself from ‘the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ (as Shakespeare’s Hamlet puts it). My life (or the life of loved ones) can be wiped out in an instant by a monster wave or powerful wind or fire or earthquake, or a drunk behind the wheel of a car or a mugger or a mentally deranged person or by a tiny bug invisible to the naked eye. And even if the threat doesn’t come from outside, my very own biology can suddenly conspire to pack up: cancer, dementia, palsy, blindness, deafness, a blockage in the artery, stroke. Continue reading

Moving beyond mithyā

The aim of my previous blog on this topic was to clarify the term mithyā and thereby bridge the apparent gap between everyone’s perception of a diverse and ‘real’ universe and the advaita teaching that says that there is only one single non-dual Reality. Mithyā is that which cannot be dismissed as unreal nor can it be accepted as absolutely real. Due to a mistranslation of the word, many declare the mithyā universe to be an illusion and consequently act as though it can be discounted as if it was absolutely non-existent. Through the analogy of water and wave we are led to understand that, whilst still perceiving the wave, we nevertheless know that what we’re seeing is nothing but water. Similarly when looking out at the mithyā universe the wise person knows that what’s being seen is nothing but Brahman, pure existence-consciousness without limit.

This is not such an easy achievement. Continue reading

Clearing some myths about mithyā

Adi Shaṅkara’s vision of advaita is most succinctly expressed in the following pithy statement: Brahma satyam, jagan-mithyā; jīvo-brahmaiva nāpara. (Brahman is Absolute Reality, satyam; the universe is dependent reality, mithyā; the individual, jīva, is none other than Brahman itself).

In this statement there is one word that has caused great confusion by being wrongly understood – much of the critical rejection of advaita (as well as the fundamentalist stand on non-duality adopted by some Western advaitins) can be avoided if this word is understood correctly. The word is mithyā.

Traditional advaita vedānta postulates two orders of reality: absolute and relative. The name given to the relative order of reality is mithyā, commonly mis-translated as ‘illusion’. Whereas the neo-advaita teachers accept only one level as valid (i.e. satyam), vedānta accommodates both levels. In the Taittiriya Upaniṣad it talks about two birds on the same tree: one enjoys the fruit of the tree, the other just witnesses. The Īśa Upaniṣad says that one should see everything as the Lord, but if that’s not possible due to attachment to the body then one should live a life performing one’s duty. The very structure of the Vedas themselves reflects this acceptance of a two-fold reality and prescribe (in the karma kāṇḍa section) the best way to live the worldly life and in the vedānta section it reveals the vision of truth. Satyam is the absolute level of reality, mithyā is the ‘as though’ real. Continue reading

Three stages to the advaita vision

1. Recognising: “I alone, the Self, the knower, am consciousness.” Consciousness is known to be the Self in one’s own mind, i.e. as the svarūpam [intrinsic nature] of the knower, distinct from the body-mind-sense complex and the external world. 
Various analytical methodologies, prakrīyas, are used (in conjunction with studying with the teacher) to arrive at this step of understanding: logic and scriptural study are both employed. The prakrīyas include dṛg dṛśya prakrīya [seer-seen analysis], avastā traiya prakrīya [analysis of the three states of experience: waking, dream and sleep], pañca koṣa prakrīya [‘5-sheaths’ analysis]…

2. Understanding: “I, the consciousness behind the mind, is one and the same in all the minds, and behind everything in the universe.” (This is like understanding that H2O, the truth of the name and form ‘wave’, is the same as the truth of every wave and also the truth of the entire ocean.)
The prakrīya used to arrive at this is the pañca koṣa prakrīya [‘5-sheaths’ analysis]…

 After these two stages, jīva-Īśvara aikyam [oneness of individual and Lord, the cause of the universe] is firmly established. This is arrived at by understanding that the truth of the individual is consciousness, and that this consciousness is nothing but Īśvara at the cosmic level.

3. Seeing: “I, the consciousness alone, am satyam, and everything apart from consciousness is mithyā [not non-existent, not absolutely existent, but ‘as though’ existent]” And that mithyā is ultimately nothing but consciousness itself. This creation is nothing but ‘I’, the consciousness + name and form ‘universe’.
The prakrīya used to arrive at this is the kāraṇa kārya prakrīya [cause-effect analysis]…

 After this stage, jagat-Brahma aikyam [oneness of the universe and Brahman, the absolute Reality] is established, i.e. everything is resolved into the one-without-a-second Reality. Brahman alone exists.

This is the advaita vision.


What is traditional advaita?

My teacher is a teacher of traditional advaita. I believe she is the only such teacher in the UK, if not in Europe. Some might look at what she teaches – Gita, Upaniṣads, Prakaraṇa Granthas (philosophical treatise) and stotras (devotional hymns) – and believe that they too, not only follow traditional advaita (because they too read these texts), but also have an additional, and arguably more powerful, key in the form of meditation or yoga or other such practice. Despite the surface similarity, however, I stick to my opening claim and will attempt to open up clear blue water between the teacher of traditional advaita simply by making clear what is mean by ‘traditional advaita’.

Two words set apart the traditional approach to teaching advaita from all others: sampradāya and pramāna.

Sampradāya is the established approach to unfolding the vision of Vedanta transmitted from one teacher to another. It is the traditional interpretation with a traceable lineage of teachers. Continue reading