Q.540 Following Bhakti Yoga

A: There are two main points here.

First, since you are asking a question about Advaita, you must appreciate that, in reality there is only Brahman, or Consciousness. From the empirical standpoint, of course, you see a dualistic world with other people etc. and, from this point of view, it is not unreasonable to speak of a god, or gods. But anything to do with this empirical point of view has to be provisional only. It all has to be acknowledged as simply name and form of that non-dual reality eventually. That ‘acknowledgement’, and the firm belief that it is true, is what we call ‘enlightenment’.

Continue reading

Reality/Existence

A (Martin): By the evidence of the ages – of innumerable sages and mystics, their outpourings, and the teachings they left us that are like the fruits of wonderful trees – the answer has to be yes! They tell us, especially to those capable of fathoming their words (‘those who have ears’), that the depth of understanding what is real and inescapable, reality itself, is practically limitless, to the point of becoming one with it in a seamless unit – no more subject-object distinction, the root of suffering.

And that is so because, as Matthew Arnold put it referring to some people: … ‘He who makes the determined effort to see life steadily and see it whole…’. There is a caveat, though: ‘Without love, the mind cannot understand’ – Sine desiderio mens non intelligit (Nicholas of Cusa). Is love anything more, or other, than that determination Matthew Arnold was speaking of? That is a high price, or is it not?

Q.539 Māyā and Brahman

A (Martin): 1) Māyā is not an attribute of Brahman which, as you say, is attributeless. Māyā is a diffuse, or polyvalent, concept which gives rise to much confusion, particularly by translating it as ‘illusion’ (see below). This concept can be viewed from the psychological, epistemological, and ontological perspectives.

Purely from the standpoint of Ṥaṅkara’s Advaita Vedanta, māyā is tied in with the concept of ‘ignorance’ (avidyā), which is prior to it; that is, avidyā is the necessary condition for māyā. Once ignorance has been annihilated by knowledge, māyā disappears. That means that from the higher (of two) point of view māyā does not exist. This is contrary to most post-Ṥaṅkara authors, with the exception of Sureśvara, who taught that māyā is a positive entity or force. If that were the case, how could a positive entity be removed by knowledge? Swami Satchidanandendra, practically alone in the 20th Cent. has defended the former Ṥaṅkarian position.

Continue reading

Q.538 Duḥkha and Stress

Continue reading

Consciousness Works!

A: Some of the responders here give a mechanistic or scientific answer based on biology, neurophysiology, or even the possibility of creating artificial consciousness! – no doubt led by the word ‘how’ in the question.

How consciousness works is a superfluous, out-of-the-blue question. It works and works perfectly well. As to what consciousness is, this is at once a common-sense matter and a metaphysical one being on a par with existence itself – what is existence? We don’t ask how existence works, do we?

Existence IS. Consciousness IS. Whether they are a mystery or not, you will have to investigate…. but not scientifically.

Q.537 Need for a Guru

A: It is highly desirable to have a qualified, traditional guru. There do not seem to be many of these around today and it is unlikely that you happen to have one conveniently close by! Consequently, the best you can do is to read books that reliably present material in the traditional manner (unfolding scriptural texts and Shankara commentaries) and listen to recorded talks from similarly reliable sources.

Continue reading

Q.536 Experience of death

A: Advaita is a teaching that has various ‘interim’ explanations, which are given to seekers at different ‘levels’. Ideally you would ally yourself with a living, traditional teacher who would take you from the ‘beginner’ level to the ‘advanced’, probably over many years.

The final truth is that there is only Brahman (Consciousness). The world and all of the people – past, present and future – are not real in themselves; they are simply name and form of Brahman. A ‘person’ appears to exist as a separate entity because Consciousness ‘animates’ the inert body-mind. Who-you-really-are is that Consciousness and NOT the body-mind. Now and always, you are that Consciousness. It is an interim teaching that speak about karma and reincarnation.

(Note that Nisargadatta, Ramana and Vivekananda, as well as all the modern ‘satsang’ teachers who travel around giving short talks and Q&A session are not traditional teachers. They often have some good and helpful things to say but unfortunately also frequently cause confusion. You should also note that Nisargadatta uses the word ‘awareness’, when practically all other teachers use ‘Consciousness’. That, alone causes much confusion! Also, you should pay no credence to so-called NDEs. Modern science has far more reasonable explanations for them, such as flood of neurotransmitters as the brain functions fail.)

Q.535 Transmigrating Soul

A: Glad you find the site useful. I presume you know that I hardly ever change the advaita.org.uk site these days. All of the new material goes to https://www.advaita-vision.org/ and has done for the past 10+ (?) years.

The ‘truth’ of Advaita is that there is only Brahman. ‘Everything’ is Brahman. ‘You’ are Brahman. And, pedantically, that is all you can really say. But of course simply telling someone that is unlikely to enlighten them! Accordingly, there are lots of ‘prakriyā-s’ (ways of explaining things, stories, techniques etc.) to help seekers move their understanding in the right direction. Traditional Advaita has many of these, proven over several thousand years to be helpful in explaining things. For example, karma and reincarnation are fundamental to these. The jīva is ‘trapped’ in saṃsāra – the eternal round of birth and death – until Self-knowledge dawns and saṃsāra is ended. But this is only a prakriyā. In reality, there is only Brahman. There has never been any creation and no one has ever been born, let alone re-born.

Continue reading

Q.534 Purpose and Meaning

Q: Advaita Vedanta has caused me two persistent difficulties. Firstly its argument that we are dependent upon Brahman, yet Brahman has no dependence; secondly that since we cannot know Brahman, only be It.

The questions concerning the meaning of life and why we are here will find no answer, beyond the speculative in vyavahAra. It’s just that statements such as these come across as rather negative, divisive and, particularly, dismissive. This is not what I expected from ‘not two’!

But, undeterred, and mindful that Advaita advises that its own teachings must eventually be left behind, I’ve moved towards a more all-inclusive perspective…. (I hope). You, Sir, seem perfectly at ease with the notion of ‘no choice’; and you present a flawless case for its validity, with which I can only concur. However, actually facing it is terrifying. Fortunately, familiarity offers a happier and unshakable strength in the ‘surrender’, although this is not an on/off situation – more a ‘work in progress’ lasting a lifetime.

So my question (if you’re still awake) is: where is ‘enjoying the journey’; joie de vivre; ‘experience’ as the key to unlock the understanding we seek? If living it can assist so well in making sense of it, why does Shankara always want to go the long way round?

Continue reading

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.