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

A popular mantra unfolded

Om sahanāvavatu sahanaubhunaktu sahavīryaṃ karavāvahai
Tejasvināvadhitamastu mā vidviśāvahai
Om śāntiḥ śāntiḥ śānti

This mantra, found in the Taittiriya Upanishad, is most propitious for recitation before study with the teacher.

Here is one translation:
May He protect us both together. May he nourish us both together. May we both acquire strength together. Let our study be brilliant. May we not cavil at each other. Om! Peace! Peace! Peace!
(Translated by Swami Gambhirananda).

Unfolded by a traditional teacher, these simple statements reveal their inner meaning. Continue reading

Common misunderstandings related to Vedanta

Below is the view of a bright young friend, Prashant Parikh, a keen, enthusiastic student of traditional Vedanta…

There are some errors in understanding I come across routinely, so I’m addressing a few of them briefly.

1) The Self can’t be experienced: The human mind is designed to go outwards (or even inwards) to gain experience. That is good, it allows us to innovate and progress in our worldly lives. However, when it comes to gaining AtmA jñAnam, the mind again looks for experience of an object called AtmA. This will fail miserable. AtmA is the very Self, the subject. Only an object endowed with attributes can be experienced. The consciousness, which is the Self, cannot be known as an object of experience. The Self can only be understood through the process of acquiring jñAnam through the timeless veda utterances. Tat tvam ask [Thou art That] is the teaching of the Guru, aham brahman asmi [I am Absolute Reality] is the understanding of the student 🙂 Continue reading

Discovering the Gita

The most succinct description of the Gita is in the first verse of the ‘Meditation on the Gita’ traditionally recited before Chapter 1. It is a salutations to Bhagavad Gita, addressed as ‘Bhagavati, Amba’ (goddess, mother). This is what it says about her:
> She is revealed to Arjuna by the Supreme Lord himself.
> She is presented by the ancient sage Vyasa in eighteen chapters in the middle of the Mahābhārata.
> She is a shower of the nectar of non-duality that frees one from the root cause of unhappiness in life.  Continue reading

Interview with the Gita

We are very fortunate to have access to Bhagavad Gita ­– described as Mother, Goddess, Shower of the Nectar of Advaita and the Release from the Endless Cycle of Rebirth – to answers the many questions that relate to our day to day living. The advice relates to every person who, like Arjuna, find that, when the minds alone is involved, it is clear what’s needed, but when feelings become engaged they are no longer convinced they know what’s the right thing to do. And, at the end of each chapter, Gita is described as Brahma vidya [Knowledge of Reality] and yoga shAstra [scripture that prepares the mind for Brahma vidya]. So the questions start from this point: Enlightenment is the unshakable knowledge ‘Aham BrahmAsi’ [I am Brahman]…

Q: What stops us from knowing this truth of oneself 24/7?
Gita: Mind has three basic defects:
1. it is impure (i.e. it is ruled by appetites and aversions)
2. it is unsteady (i.e. it is unable to hold one thought for any prolonged period of time, let alone forever – i.e. it is NOT capable of being ‘unshakable’)
3. what it holds to be true is erroneous.
Krishna describes this sort of mind of the irresolute as ‘bahu shAkAh anantAh’ – many branched and endless. Continue reading

The vulnerability of ‘doership’

We live in turbulent times. And, when there’s turbulence, insecurity increases, and with the increase of insecurity neediness and desperation follow. The needy and desperate are ripe for exploitation. A school teaching ‘practical philosophy’ in London observes that in economically buoyant times the numbers walking though their doors drops, but when the economy gets tougher the numbers joining their classes shoot up.

Recently I bumped into people from this school promoting silence and contemplation by inviting people to walk through a labyrinth (based on the one in Chartres Cathedral) chalked in the courtyard of a church in the heart of London’s West End. Adults were very serious about being calm in following the instruction, but looked clumsy when ‘disturbed’, especially when those on the inward journey encountered those returning on the narrow chalked pathway – who should give way? Should one smile or maintain composure? If one speaks would one be disturbing the other or breaking the spell? Kids, on the other hand, just ran through the labyrinth with squeals of delight as they encountered sharp bends and jumped around like gazelles to avoid obstacles. Continue reading

In praise of the guru

On April 26th 2012, the date of Adi Shankara’s birthday, the Shankaracharya of the Southern seat (Sringeri), Parama Pujya Bharati Tirtha Mahaswamiji, presented the first ever Adi Shankaracharya Award to Parama Pujya Sri Swami Dayananda Saraswati.

The Award states:

“His Holiness, Jagadguru Shankaracharya, Dakshinam Naya, Sri Shringeri Sharada Pitham, Sri Sri Bharati Tirtha Mahaswamiji is pleased to confer the Adi Shankaracharya Award on Sri Swami Dayananda Saraswati, Arsha Vidya Gurukulam, in recognition of the exemplary service rendered for the sustenance and propagation of Sanatana Dharma, Advaita philosophy, the Hindu cause and the welfare of mankind.”

I was struck by the speech from last year’s ceremony. It is a praise of Adi Shankara, but from my knowledge of Swami Dayananda Saraswati, it could be a description of his qualities:

” नानाम्नाय परिश्रमं कलयतां नास्त्येव शास्त्रेषु धीः
सत्योरप्यनयोर्न सुलभा सा हि क्षितौ साहिती
अप्येतासु सतीषु नास्ति विनयो नाचार-भक्ति-क्षमा-
चातुर्यः स च सा च सा च स च ताश्च आलम्ब्य खलेन्त्यमुम् || ”
from a text called “Vishwa Gunaadarsha Champu”

Rough translation (please excuse if there are errors):
“It is quite difficult to attain competence in learning and committing the Veda to memory, even more so discern their meaning with clarity. Among those who have these two abilities, it is still more difficult to find one who has the capability to compose prose and poetry with elegance. Still if a few such are to be found with these three abilities, the possibility that they are of good character, with devotion towards the Lord, and of a forgiving nature, is miniscule. However, all these four characteristics were expressed playfully in their full glory with Bhagavatpaada.”

Thanks for this are due to
Prasad Krishnan posted in Swami Paramarthananda Followers