Q.496 Karma and subtle body


1. If upon the death of a jivan-mukta person, the subtle body dissolves and the person does not have go through the cycle of birth and death, this would imply that my sole motivation for attaining enlightenment should be the liberation of the subtle body that resides inside this gross body (since that is what suffers from one birth to another). Does this not in some way refute the idea of realising myself as the supreme consciousness bliss?

2. How is it that law of karma stops to act only on an enlightened being when in essence we are all liberated from the beginning?

3. On living while following the path of karma yoga, how do I decide what actually is the right thing to do in one’s life assuming I don’t have any desires? What Arjuna did in those days was the traditional work assigned to kshatriyas but in present day, since there is no acceptance of the traditional caste system, how do I come to decide what I should do? As a karma yogi has no desires, does all for the Lord, but the problem is coming to know what is to be done and that too, without any desire or attachment. What occupation should be taken or should one retire as a monk?

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Q.458 Taoism

Q: I am just back from a vacation in Greece where I enjoyed a few days of reading Taoism: living in the spirit of Tao is the easy way of just floating with the stream of life. This means just living from our intuition instead of using our intellect performing the mental acrobatics of Advaita Vedanta. Indeed, as Wittgenstein pointed out correctly, one should remain silent instead of speaking (words are merely hindering tautologies) the unspeakable.

We lost our so-called enlightenment through our education/conditioning which did not happen where people still live (or lived) in harmony with the ‘natural flow of life’. This also means that, for us to recover enlightenment, life (Tao) is the only teacher and no so-called person should be considered a teacher.

A: It is certainly true that silence avoids the ambiguity of words! But since our problem is one of Self-ignorance, clearly knowledge is needed. I don’t believe that life can bring you that knowledge. My own experience is that life tends to increase identification and sense of separation. I suggest that most people leave life with greater Self-ignorance than they had to begin with. The words of Advaita do not, in any case, speak the truth; they merely point to it.

It is not the case that we begin our life in an enlightened state. ‘Enlightenment’ means Self-knowledge, not innocence. Innocence has much more in common with ignorance! In any case, are not education and conditioning an inevitable part of life? In which case, if life brought us to this condition, how should more life now remove it?

Living a life of tranquility, away from the trials of modern life at one with nature might well be very nice (though not very practicable for most people). But it would not bring about Self-knowledge!

Q.457 Using meditation to ‘find the self’

Q: Undaunted by my belief that meditation to find the self (soul) is difficult, I would like to try, but there are no teachers in my area. Therefore, in the first instance, I would really appreciate your advice regarding a book to follow for this type of meditation that is suitable for a beginner.

A: The purpose of meditation is to help gain control of the mind and senses so that you can cultivate dispassion and discrimination and still the mind when listening to the teacher.

Meditation cannot enable you to ‘find the self’. You are already the Self – you just have not realized this. What has to happen is for the mind to receive knowledge about the Self, clear any misunderstandings, resolve any doubts etc. Ideally, you need a qualified teacher for this – someone who knows the truth and is able to convey the relevant steps (via story, metaphor etc.) to help someone else come to the same understanding.

As an introduction to Advaita, there are three books I would recommend:

1. ‘Introduction to Vedanta’ by K. Sadananda – see https://www.advaita-vision.org/vedanta-introduction-sadananda/;

2. ‘Book of One’ (2nd edition) by myself – http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/thebook/thebook.htm;

3. ‘VEDĀNTA the solution to our fundamental problem’ by D. Venugopal (This is serialized at the website (https://www.advaita-vision.org/vedanta-the-solution-part-1/).

Q.456 The ‘hard’ problem

Q: Could you say something about the relationship between the ‘hard problem’ of consciousness in modern science and Advaita’s māyā?

A: Science’s problem is trying to explain how consciousness can ‘emerge’ from inert matter. Advaita’s problem is trying to explain how the world can emerge from Consciousness.

The concept of māyā is an interim explanation only. If it satisfies the listener and moves them forward towards accepting non-duality, then it has served its purpose. Ultimately, it is rejected by Advaita. There is only Consciousness. There cannot be Consciousness and a force called māyā.

Every(seeming)thing is non-dual Consciousness. There only seems to be separate things because our mind differentiates forms and gives them names. Just as in the clay-pot metaphor.

The concept of mithyā is better for ‘explaining’ the nature of the world. The world is not real ‘in itself’; it depends upon Consciousness for its existence just as the pot depends upon clay.

There is an essay – ‘Consciousness – not such a hard problem’ – on precisely this topic in my book ‘Western Philosophy Made Easy: A Personal Search for Meaning’.

Q.455 Physical changes on enlightenment

Q: In his book of talks called ‘The New Freedom’, Rajneesh (Osho) has stated that awakening disturbs the body and brain so much that a majority of people leave the body. Those who survive may suffer some severe physical deformity or inability to speak etc.

In the Gospel of Ramakrishna, Mahendranath Gupta relates how the Paramahamsa suffered on awakening. One of the changes that occurred was an enormous release of energy in the body which was unbearable. Adyashanti also states that the disturbance of the nervous system takes years to settle down. In ‘The Mystique of Enlightenment’, U. G. Krishnamurti has described at length the many drastic changes that took place in his body on account of awakening. In ‘Nothing is Everything’, a book on talks given by Nisargadatta Maharaj, the Sage is quoted as saying: “This body is on fire. Self-knowledge has a strange quality. Sometimes it is unbearable”.

What I want you to throw some light on, if possible, is the following:

Does awakening lead to drastic physical changes? Are they the same for all individuals or do these changes vary from person to person? Should one be deterred from attempting self-realization?

Steven Norquist, who claims to have awakened, told his audience in a 2010 talk available on the internet, that they should not seek awakening but should be ‘spiritual’. One of the reasons he mentioned was the bodily changes I have referred to.

I would also be obliged if you could suggest some literature on the subject, if it exists.

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Q.454 How should one live one’s life?

Q: One of the problems I encounter with Advaita is that, even though it makes sense and resonates with me, it does not help from the point of view of providing guidelines on how to live my life. If we consider Buddhism, for example, we find a clear path on how to live one’s live that goes in accordance with the deeper philosophical explanations of what reality is, etc.

This is the part in which I find myself discouraged and not knowing how to move forward. What could you tell me about this? What would you recommend that I read?

A: All of the guidance given by Advaita regarding ‘how to live’ is directed at preparing the mind so that it is optimally able to gain Self-knowledge. Once this has happened, you know that in reality there is no world, there are no persons. ‘Life’ is just the apparent movement of forms of Brahman.

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Q.453 Consciousness is happiness?

Q: I have just read your book ‘How to meet yourself’. I am not sure if I understand what you mean when you say that “Consciousness is happiness” and that “I am happiness”. Since everything is an appearance within consciousness, wouldn’t happiness be just that? Why would we equate consciousness to happiness?

A: Before answering the question, it would be useful to note the difference between Consciousness and consciousness. Consciousness with as capital ‘C’ is used throughout in all of these answers to refer to Brahman, the non-dual reality. The mind is conscious because Consciousness is reflected by the mind. The body and mind are both inert in themselves. It is important not to confuse these terms.

The actual paragraph is:

“Fourthly, it would not be meaningful to talk about Consciousness being happy or unhappy. Being complete and without limitations of any sort, it is more appropriate to say that Consciousness is happiness. This, then, is an aspect of my true nature. Since I am Consciousness, there is nothing that I need, nothing to be achieved, nowhere to which I have to get. I am already perfect and complete – I am happiness”.

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Q.452 Why is non-duality teaching ‘cold’?

Q: I am wondering why none of the teachings on Advaita/non-duality address the seeker with compassion or answer the question directly in a manner that would embrace the seeker. I have read several questions regarding thoughts and the creation of observed reality. Understanding that the person asking is still seeking, why would the near hostility of the answer that there is “no person to think, no concrete reality to experience, etc.”. possibly be acceptable from the standpoint of pure awareness.

Wouldn’t it be aware that this is not just ‘not an answer’, but a steering away from the question, and in terms of attaining a nondual experience not helpful? I would think awareness should know to first answer the question and then provide the next level view.

This is by far not the only site/teaching/vision of non-duality where this semi-hostility and often circular logic is present. I frequently see angry articles that just say “LOOK, it’s all right there, just LOOK”, as if that is helpful for someone who is seeking to understand. It’s not. It’s off-putting.

By far the worst answer I frequently come across is: “but who is asking?” That answer, while I have yet to see it here, is reprehensible. It is not an answer intended to help; it is intended to put people off and convey a sense of superiority. It shows less than no compassion and is ostracizing.

Why does it seem that the modern teaching of non-duality is hostile, cold and harsh with an almost elitist and upper crust air that defies an idea of an ever present awareness? What am I not seeing? Is there no teacher that can lead without being dismissive?

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Q.451 Nothing to be done?

Q: After reading and listening to non-duality teachers I got to know that there is nothing that can be done; there is nothing to attain and nothing to achieve. Whatever ‘is’, simply is.

So what should we do actually? After knowing this truth how should we live our life? Earlier I wanted to do sAdhana to attain self-realization and enlightenment. Now I have understood that it is the ego which is asking that.

Now in my life I have a feeling that, whatever activity I undertake, it’s just about keeping my mind and body engaged. Be it any activity – reading a book, doing meditation, working at the office – I feel that there is a separation between ‘I’ and the ‘mind’. When an activity or any kind of work starts, then the Mind and body are involved in it but I am separate from all of them. When the activity finishes, I again have my body and mind available to be engaged in another activity.

A: You seem not to be differentiating between absolute and empirical reality (paramArtha and vyavahAra). From the absolute viewpoint, there is only Brahman so that doing, enjoying, knowing etc. have no meaning – there is no one, no thing. But from the empirical perspective – from your personal viewpoint – there is a world and people. And there are j~nAnI-s and aj~nAnI-s (people who know the truth and those who do not). If you do not know the truth, you will suffer in life, so what can (and should!) be done is to find out the truth: that who-you-really-are is Brahman. Of course it is the ego that wants to do this but this desire is the one desire that is not only permissible, it should be encouraged!

Once your mind truly and irrevocably knows the truth (this is the meaning of being ‘enlightened’), you can then do whatever happens to be your svadharma or ‘calling’. This may just be carrying on doing your everyday job, living a family life, or whatever. But you may need to continue nididhyAsana in the form of study, reading, teaching, discussing Advaita so that the Self-knowledge is consolidated and you benefit from peace and happiness etc. for the remainder of the jIva’s life.

Q.450 Witness – mind or Brahman?

Q: Talks that I have been listening to use the terms ‘witness’, ‘eternal witness’ and other synonyms. Is pure consciousness or Brahman this ‘Ultimate Witness’? If so, obviously, it can’t witness unless there’s a manifesting medium to do so, correct? But ‘to witness’ implies duality. Also, it is often said that Brahman is transcendent or beyond the body-mind, and something other than the mithyA universe. So that means, again, that it can witness everything.

How do you reconcile the fact that knowledge is in the mind with Brahman being the witness beyond and apart from it? And how does this fit in with non-duality – there can’t be two things?

A: The effective explanation is ‘adhyAropa-apavAda’. The reality is that there is only non-dual Brahman or Consciousness. You begin with the conviction that the world is real, you are your body etc. Advaita gradually disabuses you of such notions by use of prakriyA-s (teaching ‘ploys’) such as analysis of the states of consciousness, cause and effect, real and unreal, seer and seen. Each of these takes you a little further in understanding. But, once the particular example has served its purpose, it is discarded. Analogy and metaphor can only take one so far; they are means to an end. Metaphors to illustrate this are leaving the boat behind once you have crossed the river, and letting go of the pole in pole vaulting before you go over the bar.

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