Q.481 Robert Adams and Reincarnation

Q: I discovered Advaita Vedanta by beginning to read the satsangs of Robert Adams, an American disciple of Sri Ramana Maharshi. I also read books about the latter. These readings have had a considerable impact on “my”  existence, which started to take another turn.

However, there is one point that bothers me, if may say so. Let me explain :

In his satsang “It’s All A Dream” of October 18, 1990, Robert Adams says:

So today we think we are going to make this a better world in which to live, and we are going to save the world, and so on. The world has its own collective karma. It’s going through a phase. Your job is to save yourself. If you find yourself in a burning building, you do not stop to admire the pictures on the wall, you get out of the building as fast as you can. So, when you know you have a short time in this existence you do not stop to play the games of life, you try to find yourself and become free as fast as you can. Continue reading

Q. 480 Being ‘present’

Q: I feel that reading and writing feeds the mind. But, when I am in Presence I don’t feel the need to read and don’t really have anything to say. For me this is a problem, since reading and writing are for me pleasant activities.

So my question is whether it is possible to read and write while respecting and being in Presence, or is it direct contract with no-thought Presence that is necessary?

A: ‘Presence’ is not a term that is used in traditional Advaita. I assume that you mean just witnessing what is happening without mental commentary and without any investment in the outcome, whether ‘favorable’ or ‘unfavorable’. This practice is just that – a practice, helping you to become proficient at controlling the mind. Mental discipline and control of the senses are required to a degree, along with discrimination and dispassion before you can (successfully) undertake the real activities of Advaita. These are listening to a qualified teacher explain the scriptures and then asking questions to clarify any doubts. The end result is to gain knowledge about your Self and reality. That is enlightenment. Just ‘being present’ will never give enlightenment, no matter how long or how frequently you stay there.

Q. 479 What should I read?

Q: I am new to Advaita I am currently reading Drg Drsya Viveka and the works of Swami Vivekananda. I also sometimes listen to commentary from Swami Sarvapriyananda from the NY Vedanta Society. And I frequently read thru your website, but my internet connection is poor.

Which book of yours and maybe others would you recommend to help?

A: Don’t read Vivekananda. He is, unfortunately, a source of much confusion in Advaita, rejecting some key aspects and embracing teaching from Yoga (which is a dualistic philosophy). Here is a list of recommended books for beginners that I produced recently for someone: Continue reading

Q.478 What is love?

Q: What is love in Advaita Vedanta? What is love for ‘god’? Despite the path of love’s many fruits, Is it not a dualistic concession? Without mAyA what is love?

A: Love is not really an ‘issue’ in Advaita. It may well be something that is spoke of frequently by modern (new-agey) teachers, because it is popularly an important subject in life, but it is necessarily a dualistic concept. There has to be a subject ‘lover’ and an objective ‘loved’. And of course the reality is non-dual. There is only the Self. In fact, the only scriptural reference I can think of is Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.5.6. Here, it is pointed out that a person loves his wife/husband/children etc. not for their sakes but for one’s own sake, i.e. the Self that is the Self of all. And it concludes with one of the most famous instructions in Advaita: “The Self, my dear Maitreyi, should be realized – should be heard of, reflected on and meditated upon. When the Self, my dear, is realized by being heard of, reflected on and meditated upon, all this is known.”

Love of God is certainly an interim element of the teaching for many, although perhaps the word ‘devotion’ is less emotive/confusing. This is more in the sense of surrender (of the fruit of action and so on).

You are right that it is a dualistic concept and therefore only of interim relevance in the teaching of Advaita. All concepts have to be given up in the end – including that of mAyA, and God… and Advaita!

Q.477 Meditation and Brahman

Q: I have just been initiated into japa meditation. I just wondered: is the mantra a sound or a word?

And if Atman and Brahman are one, I am interpreting that correctly to mean that in my deepest Self (soul) I am divine – at one with Brahman? And that that signifies a unity (oneness) not sameness (identity)?

To put it in Christian terms, in my soul the Spirit of God dwells (as Eckhart said: ‘the I with which I see God is the same I with which God sees me’ and ‘my ground is God’s ground, God’s ground is my ground’). 

Thus Advaita: ‘not two’ (but not completely one either – monism). In Christianity: ‘whatever you do to the least of these, you do unto me’ (Matthew 5: 45).

A: ‘japa’ meditation is the mental repetition of a sound or a mantra. You could use the name of a god but it would still function as a sound. I.e. you are not supposed to ‘think’ about it, dwell on its significance etc. – that is a different form of meditation entirely. You give attention only to the repeating sound, ignoring any other thought. The repetition gradually loses its intensity and frequency and you are eventually left with complete mental silence. (May take a few years to get to this point!)

Atman and Brahman are two words for the same non-dual reality. The former is from the perspective of the (apparent) person and the latter from the as-if-perspective of absolute reality. Ishvara is the name given to Brahman from the perspective of empirical reality. Everything (including you and Ishvara) is simply name and form of Brahman. The relevant metaphor is that of bangle, ring and necklace being name and form of gold.

It would be best for you to temporarily forget all about Christianity and any other religion/philosophy until such time as you fully understand Advaita. Then you will be able to see that all the others are attempts, with varying degrees of success, to approach an understanding of the same truth. Trying to reconcile the views will only lead to confusion.

Q.475 Witness-Consciousness

Q: Can you help me to clear the following doubts?

  1. What part of the body is referred to as the mind?
  2. Why cannot the witness consciousness be a 5th part of the mind, Ego (changing subject), Emotion, Reasoning, Memory and the witness (unchanging subject)? In other words why cant the witness Atman be limited?
  3. Why cannot there be multiple witness consciousness or multiple Atman’s.
  4. Can each Mithya have different Satyam? To me it is quite a big jump to say Satyam of everything is one and the same. I can get that everything can be reduced to atoms and particles but beyond that it is difficult to conclude that there is one Satyam?

Continue reading

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