Q. 444 Prior to Consciousness

Q: 1. Is there or could there be an Absolute Nothingness that everything, including Awareness, comes from or out of? Part of this question is the possibility that Awareness or Consciousness is only in this world and for this experience.

2. Without a brain and nervous system, or a manifesting medium, Awareness doesn’t even know it is. Therefore, it is still temporary, or a state it seems? And, as Nisargadatta says, what we are is PRIOR to this.

A: 1. The confusion of ‘awareness’ versus ‘consciousness’ a la Nisargadatta has been addressed in other questions. ‘Awareness’ in traditional (my) terminology is a characteristic of the mind of a jIva. A sharp, controlled mind has more awareness than a dull, undisciplined one. But ‘awareness’ is not a ‘substance’ in its own right, so it cannot ‘come out of’ anything. And ‘absolute nothingness’ is just that – and nothing can come out of it by definition! (Or, perhaps more accurately, ONLY nothingness can come out of it!) The concept of ‘absolute nothingness being the reality’ is shunya vAda, which is a Buddhist idea refuted by Shankara in his brahmasUtra and mANDUkya upaniShad commentaries. Continue reading

Q. 474 Psychology and happiness

Q: I have been reading and studying your website and Advaita Vendanta in general and I ran across a few questions while recently reading an article.

You wrote:
 “Vedanta states that the search for happiness in the world is based on a mistaken idea about the source of happiness. The things of the world are seen as objects of one’s desire for achieving completeness and therefore satisfaction and happiness through actions directed at attaining those objects. Objects themselves are neutral, says Vedanta, but one projects a positive or negative bias on the object according to past experience and conditioning. As long as there is the belief that the objects of the world are the source of happiness the endless cycle of desire, action, result, and experience will continue, sometimes with disastrous consequences. “

Does this apply to goals that are not neccesarily objects but still something of the world? Like say for instance studying in college in a field you are interested in. If you are not just studying for the diploma itself and a high pay grade but for the love of the knowledge itself and for being more able to serve those around you would that still fall under mistaking the source of happiness?

I dont know if I am putting this the right way so I hope maybe you can understand what I am asking despite that. I just was wondering does Advaita Vedanta advise not having goals in life at all? Is it disadvantageous to the self to pursue goals in life? If desire for things outside of yourself doesn’t lead to happiness is it a mistake to desire knowledge and service to others as well? 

Also, do you know where I could learn more about how western psychology and Advaita Vedanta are similar and different? Do you have any thoughts on this? I know western psychology is a very broad subject but didnt know if you know of any books or articles that relate the two. Continue reading

Q. 473 TM

Q: Good afternoon, I wonder if i may ask you about meditation please ? In particular TM, Transcendental Meditation.

I have been meditating twice daily for two years now and have not noticed any changes, no more calmness or anything really. I enjoy it while i do it but the feeling does not carry over into daily life.

From your experience would it be best to give it up or persevere a little longer please ? Is there something better than thus type of meditation?

A: Can you describe in some detail what you actually do and what you find? Continue reading

Q. 472 Embodied Atman

Q: Advaitins believe that Atman is omnipresent / all pervasive and therefore doesn’t transmigrate after death. Only the subtle body does the travelling.

If such is the case, then why do some advaitins use the term ’embodied’? The term ’embody’ means, putting something inside a body. For example, once you put something inside an enclosed thing like water in a bottle, and then upon moving the bottle the trapped water also moves along with the bottle.

Is this what they really mean by embodied, that atman remains trapped/enclosed/embodied within the bottle called subtle body, and upon death, atman while being trapped moves along with the subtle body to a new physical vessel?

But then, if Atman moves along with the subtle body at death (i.e. if we take the word embody seriously), then it contradicts the teachings of advaita where they say that Atman is all-pervasive/omnipresent and has no need to change locations. That it is indivisible and cannot be enclosed by any bodies.

What exactly do they mean by embodied then?

A: Yes there is always a danger that, if you latch on to a particular way of phrasing things, you will be confused! The problem is that you cannot really talk about the reality at all so that teachers have to provide ‘explanations’ that are not actually true. You move forward in your understanding one bit at a time, discarding the earlier explanations as you go.

The ‘Atman’ is the word that Advaita gives to the reality as it ‘applies to’ the individual person. ‘Brahman’ is the word that Advaita gives to the reality as it ‘applies’ to the totality, universe and everything. And one of the key teachings is that Atman = Brahman. The word ’embodied’ is certainly used by some teachers but it is quite misleading. Atman is NEVER ‘in’ the body. A much better way of looking at it is that the reality (Brahman, perhaps better thought of as ‘Consciousness’) is ‘reflected’ in the mind of the person. This is why we seem to see separate individuals; the ‘quality’ of the reflection depends upon the quality of the particular mind. But body-minds are inert. They are conscious (small ‘c’) by virtue of Consciousness (large ‘C’) reflecting or animating the body-mind’. Continue reading

Q.471 More on Consciousness versus consciousness

Q: Many Vedanta teachers, nonduality, and especially Direct Path teachers answer the question “Who am I?” with these kinds of constructs:

I am that which is aware of objects. I am the awareness of objects. I am awareness.

I understand the intention of this way of formulating things; it moves the seeker away from the notion that s/he is this or that object (body, mind, etc.). But my problem with the formulation is that it seems to be presented as satyam, but it is in fact mithyam. (When taught properly it’s a good adhyAropa apavAda device, but many of the nonduality teachers I’ve read teach it as an ultimate truth, the foundation of their teachings.

The true (satyam) answer to “Who am I?” is “I am Atman/brahman.” And this is NOT synonymous with saying “I am awareness (or anything else that can be conceived, envisioned, described)” because Atman/brahman is beyond all attributes. So, if one were to avoid using the Sanskrit terms, my answer to “Who am I?” is something like:

I am the mystery.

My question for you as a traditional Advaita teacher is: What is the validity/usefulness of the “I am … ” constructs I listed at the beginning of this email? Continue reading

Q.469 Consciousness versus consciousness

Q: Consciousness (capital C) is brahman is ineffable. consciousness (lowercase c) is the state of being aware (of something). These are fundamentally different ‘things’ … they really have nothing to do with each other. They might as well be called x and Y instead of x and X.

What am I missing here? What justifies consciousness and Consciousness being portrayed (linguistically, in any case) as the same thing except for the capitalization? How is consciousness similar to Consciousness? 

Or is it as simple as: What we call consciousness is <whatever happens to arise mentally when> Consciousness reflects off the mind? In other words: There is no consciousness per se, there is only reflected Consciousness in ALL its forms? The feel of consciousness … qualia, presence, what it is like to be a particular mind-body at a particular moment.

How is this *feel* similar to Consciousness? If they are utterly dissimilar, why use the same root word with different spellings?

A: Interesting questions, although I think maybe you are making more of this than is really there.

Firstly, Consciousness and consciousness have to be the same in reality, since there is only Consciousness. How can you say they have nothing to do with each other? In the light analogy I used [If you look at the analogy of light, the light reflected off a mirror is still light, still photons of electromagnetic radiation, even though the mirror itself is not the originator of those photons.], the reflected photons are the same photons, not newly originated imitations. We call the reflected Consciousness ‘consciousness’ but it is still only ever Consciousness. The reason that we want to differentiate is to explain aspects such as why Consciousness manifests differently in different minds. You could say that a clear, disciplined mind ‘reflects’ Consciousness much more ‘brightly’ than a dull, identified mind, in a similar way to a clean mirror reflecting light much more brightly than a dirty one.

You say to begin with that “consciousness (lowercase c) is the state of being aware (of something)”. But it is Consciousness that enables us to be aware of anything. When Consciousness enlivens the mind, we just happen to call it ‘being conscious’. Your statement “There is no consciousness per se, there is only reflected Consciousness in ALL its forms?” is one way of putting it.

The ‘feel’ of being conscious is one aspect of the mind’s response to the reflection of Consciousness. There is no ‘feel’ under anesthesia, for example, because there is no reflection taking place since the mind is inactive.

Q.468 Roles versus Witness

Q: I have been reading Vedanta for a few years and have a question. We are always playing some form of role such as Employee, Worker, Husband, Son etc. My understanding is that Advaita tells us to let the role do its own work but you remain who you are which is the ‘Absolute witness’.

How do we practice this in our daily life?   It seems difficult to have the same kind of energy when you are in that state.

A: What you are speaking of is karma yoga as preparation for j~nAna yoga. The aim in daily life is to respond appropriately to whatever is in front of you, perform the task with attention and do not be attached to the results. This is all a part of the process of acquiring discrimination, mental discipline and detachment. You need these in order to study Advaita (by listening to a qualified teacher explain the scriptures). It is not the purpose of any of this to acquire ‘good energy’ (whatever that means). Continue reading

Q.467 Clarifying pratibimba

Q: I’ve recently been reading about the reflection theory (pratibimba vAda). I’ve gone through a few articles that explain the theory, but still find the ‘bimba’ aspect confusing. I know it’s the pure original consciousness Brahman but what is its actual location? Is bimba (the original consciousness) located in the body or outside the body?

A: The bimba is Consciousness, with a capital ‘C’ – the non-dual reality. In reality there is only Consciousness; all seeming ‘things’ are just name and form of it. But, for the purposes of ‘explaining’ the empirical reality (vyavahAra), we say that each jIva has a ‘reflection’ of Consciousness in their mind. This is called chidAbhAsa or pratibimba. The ‘bimba’ is not located anywhere. If you like, everything is located in the bimba. Think of ‘space’ and ‘jar space’.

Read the essay and discussions at the site:
https://www.advaita-vision.org/chidabhasa/ and
https://www.advaita-vision.org/continuing-reflections-on-reflections/ and discussion at https://www.advaita-vision.org/discussion-on-chidabhasa/

Q: In your article ChidAbhAsa, you’ve added a passage from Shankara’s Brahma Sutra commentary, where he has said the following: Continue reading

Q.466 Creation Theories

Q: Is Isvara/maya the one responsible for the form of the universe or is the jiva responsible for it?

If Isvara/maya:

  • then who/what is Isvara and how does it create the universe?
  • then how does Adhyasa come into the picture because if Isvara is the creator then even if adhyasa is removed then the appearance of the world will still be there.

If the jiva

  • then why does the world not disappear upon enlightenment (a jiva is responsible for the dream at night whilst asleep, therefore the dream disappears upon waking)

I have heard many examples of gold/ornament with regards to the universe and Brahman (Gold being brahman, the names/forms being the ornaments). I’m not sure I have fully grasped this comparison. In what sense does matter depend on Brahman?

I see that all things are experienced IN consciousness and therefore in that sense the world of objects/atoms/quantum fields etc. depends on consciousness/Brahman because the world can not be experienced without consciousness. It doesn’t seem right to me, because it’s not something you could ever refute. Obviously we can’t experience the world without consciousness.

A: The answer to your questions is really ‘it depends’. It depends upon which theory you are ‘using’/accepting.

The ‘simple’, traditional response is that Ishvara creates the world and there are detailed ‘explanations’ as to how this is done in several Upanishads (which do not always agree in the finer detail). To any modern, scientific mind, these explanations are not convincing (to put it politely). And you are right – when adhyAsa is removed for the jIva, the world is still there. Ishvara is both the material and efficient cause – matter IS Ishvara’s own substance, in the analogous way to the web being the spider’s own substance. This is the sRRiShTi-dRRiShTi-vAda theory – the world is created and we then see it.

There is what is believed by its adherents to be a more sophisticated theory, which is that the jIva sees the ‘form’ of brahman and effectively creates the universe out of it. You can appreciate this in the vAchArambhaNa sutras in Chandogya Upanishad. We impose forms on the non-dual substrate and give them names, thereby bringing about an apparent duality. This is the dRRiShTi-sRRiShTi-vAda theory – you see and then create your universe.

Of course, if you think about this second theory, you realize that these forms that you create have to include ‘other jIva-s’ and your own body-mind. This is equivalent to solipsism and is called the eka-jIva-vAda theory – ‘one-jIva’. It is effectively the same as DSV. And, again you are right – upon enlightenment (when ‘I’ am enlightened), the world will disappear.

Personally, I prefer to go straight to ajAti-vAda – there has never been any creation at all. There is only ever the non-dual brahman.

There is much written on all of this. As you appreciate, it is a complex topic. Have you read my last book, ‘A-U-M’? Gaudapada went straight to the heart of the matter and my book tries to cover all that he and Shankara said in their commentaries on the Mandukya Upanishad.

Have a look at Q.103 and http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/teachers/theories_vidyasankar.htm.

Q.465 Enlightenment, cause and effect

Q: Brahman is beyond cause and effect. But a seeker’s effort is bound by the principle of cause and effect. Therefore, it would seem that a seeker cannot  reach a state of Self-realization, howsoever much his efforts are sincere.

Obviously, this cannot be quite right. After some though, I arrived at the following possible explanation:

The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, for example, has the mahAvakya: aham brahamAsmi: I am Brahaman.
Brahman+ avidyA = jIva.
If the jIva makes an effort ( which is subject to the cause and effect principle) to remove avidyA, then it can be removed. Once avidyA has been removed, then the ever present, self-luminous Brahman is re-gained. So the method is to remove avidyA. 

Is my reasoning correct?

A: It is not quite correct.

Your main problem is in confusing absolute and empirical reality.  Brahman is the absolute reality; time, space, causality have no meaning, since absolute reality is non-dual. The seeker IS Brahman in absolute reality. At the empirical level, of course, the seeker lives in a world of apparent duality and is subject to cause and effect.

Secondly, what you say implies that you are unclear about ‘Self-realization’. Rather than use that term, or ‘enlightenment’, it is better to refer to ‘Self-knowledge’. Then it is clear that ‘Self-knowledge’ removes ‘Self-ignorance’. If you make the effort, you can remove Self-ignorance. When this happens, you realize that you are Brahman, and always have been, since there is only Brahman. The effort relates to the jIva in the world. The Self-knowledge relates to the mind of the jIva in the world. All these are mithyA, since there is really only Brahman.

So yes, if you make efforts (subject to causality), you can remove avidyA. Then you do not ‘gain’ or ‘regain’ Brahman; you simply realize that you ‘are’ Brahman.