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”? 
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.

mANDUkya upaniShad Part 13

*** Read Part 12 ***

Mantra 12

अमात्रश्चतुर्थोऽव्यवहार्यः प्रपञ्चोपशमः शिवोऽअद्वैत
आत्मैव संविशत्यात्मनाऽऽअत्मनं य एवं वेद य एवं वेद ॥ १२॥

amAtrashchaturtho.avyavahAryaH prapa~nchopashamaH shivo.Advaita
evamo~NkAra .

Atmaiva saMvishatyAtmanA.a.AtmanaM ya evaM veda ya evaM veda || 12 ||

chaturtha – The fourth (aspect)
o~NkAra – of the syllable OM
amAtra – (has) no parts (i.e. is limitless);
avyavahArya – (is) transcendental (not at the level of empirical transactions),
prap~nchopashamam – has no phenomenal existence,
shivaH – is ‘all bliss’
Advaita – (and) non-dual.

Atma eva – (It is therefore) verily the Self.
ya evaM veda – Whosoever knows this
saMvishati atAnaM – merges his self
AtmanA – into the Self.

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mANDUkya upaniShad Part 12

*** Read Part 11 ***

Mantra 11 (and kArikA K1.21)

सुषुप्तस्थानः प्राज्ञो मकारस्तृतीया मात्र मितेरपीतेवर
मिनोति ह वा इदं सर्वमपीतिश्च भव्ति य एवं वेद॥ ११॥

suShuptasthAnaH prAj~no makArastRRitIyA mAtra miterapItervA
minoti ha vA idaM sarvamapItishcha bhavati ya evaM veda || 11 ||

tRRitIyA mAtra – The third mAtra (of OM)
makAra – the letter ‘m
prAj~na – (is) prAj~na
suShupta sthAnaH – the deep-sleep state
miteH – because (it is like) a ‘measure’
va – or
apIteH – on account of absorption.

ya evaM veda – Whosoever knows this
ha vai – verily
minoti sarvam – measures everything
cha bhavati – and becomes
apItiH – (one who) understands.

The letter m, the third mAtra of OM, is prAj~na, the deep-sleep state because both have the characteristic of a measure and are as though absorbed into the final part. Whoever knows this will be able to assimilate and comprehend everything.

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The Paradox of Free Will (Feb 2011)

We haven’t discussed this favorite topic in Advaita for some time! This is an article I wrote for Yoga International over 12 years ago but it only appeared on-line for a short time at Advaita Academy.

Why do you act the way that you do? If it is because you feel you ought to do something, you probably recognize there is little free will involved. You are being coerced by society or family, or influenced by concerns over what might happen if you don’t act in that way. On the other hand, if you do something because you want to, then perhaps you believe you are exercising free will. But is this true even when you trace the source of your desire? For example, you see a cream cake in the window of a shop, and the thought arises, I would like some cake. Did you freely choose to have that thought? Indeed, can you choose to have any thought? Do they not simply arise?

Anyone who has thought deeply about spiritual matters knows that one of the fundamental problems is how to reconcile our day-to-day experience with claims about God or a nondual reality. The first level seems concrete and demonstrable while the second is speculative, to say the least. Among the Indian philosophies, advaita Vedānta is the only one that speaks of orders of reality. There is the absolute nondual reality (paramārtha); the empirical level (vyavahāra); and the illusory level of dreams (pratibhāsa). Correctly differentiating among these levels is essential if we are to understand the subtleties involved in the question of free will.

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mANDUkya upaniShad Part 11

*** Read Part 10 ***

Mantra 10 (and kārikā K1.20)

स्वप्नस्थानस्तैजस उकारो द्वितीया मात्रोत्कर्षादुभयत्वाद्वोत्कर्षति ह वै ज्ञानसन्ततिं समानश्च भवति नास्याब्रह्मवित्कुले भवाति य एवं वेद ॥ १० ॥

svapnasthānastaijasa ukāro dvitīyā mātrotkarṣādubhayatvādvotkarṣati ha vai jñānasantatiṃ samānaśca bhavati nāsyābrahmavitkule bhavāti ya evaṃ veda || 10 ||

dvitIyā mātra – The second mātra (of OM)
ukāraḥ – the letter ‘u’
taijasa – is taijasa
svapna sthāna – the dream state
utkarṣāt – because it is superior
– or
ubhayatvāt – because it is in the middle.

ya evaṃ veda – Whosoever knows this
ha vai – verily
utkarṣāti – increases
jñāna saṃtati – the flow of knowledge
cha bhavati – and becomes
samānaḥ – the equal (of anyone).

abrahmavit – (A person who is) not a knower of brahman
na bhavāti – is not born
asya kule – in his family.

The letter u, the second mātra of OM, is taijasa, the dream state, because both are regarded as superior and also are in the middle of their respective series. Whoever knows this will become superior in knowledge and accepted by all. All members of his family will be jñānī-s.

The letter u is regarded as superior to a because it comes later in the alphabet and, in the sounding of o, the a ‘resolves’ into u. Whereas a was the basic, unadorned sound made by merely opening the mouth, u is a more subtle sound requiring that we modify the lips significantly.

The subtle taijasa is regarded as superior to vishva because subtle is superior to gross. Also, gross can be considered as the ‘effect’ of the subtle ’cause’. Gross equates to matter, subtle to energy. Mental is superior to physical; it is the quality of our mind that raises us above animals. The gross body returns to earth on death, whereas the subtle and causal bodies continue to rebirth (for the ajñānī). At the macrocosmic (samaṣṭi) level, at the end of the universe (pralaya), the entire gross creation (virāṭ) is subsumed into hiraṇyagarbha.

Each is the middle of its respective series: u comes between a and m; taijasa comes between vishva and prājña.

By meditating on OM, giving attention particularly to the letter u and being aware of these associations, the following benefits will accrue to the seeker who is still primarily interested in material benefits:  their mental power and corresponding knowledge will increase; they will be treated equally by everyone, yet envied by no one.

*** Read Part 12 ***

The reification of ignorance

The reification of ignorance or the One-percent Brigade

There has recently been a brief spate of posts relevant to this topic on the Advaitin List. I rarely post there these days for fear of getting involved in long arguments with members committed to opposing views. But, after someone claimed that 99% of Advaitins accepted that ‘ignorance’ was a really existent entity, I posted to assert my membership of the ‘1% Brigade’, explaining that “I mainly wanted to reassure those readers who were dismayed to think that they were in the 1% and apparently did not understand Advaita!”

What I said was:
“(In volume 2 of ‘Confusions’), one of the aspects that I specifically address is the notion of avidyā as a really existent entity and I am afraid that I have to conclude, using reason and common sense, as well as the quotations, that what is meant by ‘ignorance’ is simply ‘lack of knowledge’. Essentially, it is a language problem. So, yes, there is certainly ignorance in the deep-sleep state, simply because the mind is resolved and incapable of having knowledge about anything. But there is no mūlāvidyā, I’m afraid. And I hope that many will be convinced if they read all of the arguments.”

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mANDUkya upaniShad Part 10

*** Read Part 9 ***

Mantra 9 (and kArikA K1.19)

जागरितस्थानो वैश्वानरोऽकारः प्रथमा मात्रऽऽप्तेरादिमत्त्वाद्वाऽऽप्नोति ह वै सर्वान् कामानादिश्च भवति य एवं वेद ॥ ९ ।

jAgaritasthAno vaishvAnaro.akAraH prathamA mAtra.a.apteraadimattvaadvA.a.apnoti ha vai sarvAn kAmAnAdishcha bhavati ya evaM veda || 9 ||

prathamA mAtra – The first mAtra (of OM)
akAraH – the letter ‘a’
vaishvAnara – is vaishvAnara
jAgarita sthAno – the waking state
ApteH – (because of both having the characteristics of) being all-pervasive
va – or
AdimatvatvAt – being the first.

ya evam veda – Whoever knows this
ha vai Apnoti –  certainly obtains
sarvan kAmAn – all desirable objects
cha – and
AdiH bhavati – becomes the first.

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mANDUkya upaniShad Part 9

*** Read Part 8 ***

Mantra 8

सोऽयमात्माऽध्यक्षरमोङ्कारोऽधिमात्रं पादा मात्र मात्राश्च पादा अकार उकारो मकार इति ॥ ८ ॥

so.ayamAtmA.adhyakSharamo~NkAro.adhimAtraM pAdA mAtra mAtrAshcha pAdA akAra ukAro makAra iti || 8 ||

saH ayam AtmA – this same AtmA (just described in the 7th mantra)
adhyakSharamadhi – concerning (i.e. from the standpoint of) – akShara – the syllables
o~NkAra – is OM.
(adhi literally means ‘making it the basis’. Shankara says that the previous mantras have concentrated on the abhidheya meaning ‘that which is being spoken of’, i.e. the thing named or denoted. OM, therefore, is effectively the abhidhAna – name or appellation.  What is meant is that Atman is equated to OM in the linguistic sense.)
adhimAtraM – from the standpoint of the mAtra-s, i.e. the individual parts of OM, (note that the literal meaning of mAtra is measure; the symbolism of this will become clearer with the 10th mantra)
pAdA mAtra – the (four) aspects (of the Self) are the (four) mAtra-s
mAtrAshcha pAdA – and the letters are the aspects.
akAra ukAro makAra iti – In this manner, (the letters are) a, u and m.

This Atma can be equated to OM. The aspects of the Self are the parts of OM and the parts of OM are the aspects. The letters constituting OM are ‘a’, ‘u’ and ‘m’.

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AI and Consciousness

A not-too-serious look at the state of AI vis-à-vis Advaita prompted by Martin’s post

It is perfectly understandable that we humans should think that only we have the necessary evolutionary complexity to be able to exhibit self-awareness. But scientists (presumably not human…) seem to think otherwise.

Traditionally, the test for self-awareness has been the ability to realize that it is our own body that we see in a mirror – the MSR, Mirror Self-recognition test. The scientist puts the animal-under-test to sleep and then makes a very visible mark on its face. When it wakes up, it is given a mirror to see if it realizes it is seeing a reflection and tries to remove the mark from its own face, or whether it tries to kill the intruder.  According to Wikipedia, other species that have passed this test include “the great apes, a single Asiatic elephant, rays, dolphins, orcas, the Eurasian magpie, and the cleaner wrasse”.

Modern science still argues that consciousness arises as a result of interoperation of various parts of the brain (under the banner of the ‘neural correlates of consciousness’ or NCC), when it reaches a certain level of complexity. Ramesam will know lots more about this.

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