Q.493 Sanskrit expression

Q:Thank you for your website. It is a precious treasure.

I am a Transmission Acarya in Japanese Shingon Buddhism, I have studied and taught siddham for over 25 years. My Wife (also a Shingon Priest) and I have Temples and teach in Fresno, California and Nara, Japan.

In our tradition each vibration is separate and distinct although each letter is a thousand gates. Each letter has multiple levels of understanding as we move towards awakening. We have taught the role of advaya (JP: Funi -not two) and have spent several hundred hours in jñana (from the Buddhist Perspective). Our group is small with about 60 regular attendees at our seminars, This size gives us the depth of vibration to reach states that are beyond an individuals experience.

I have been a member of the advaitin group for many years but I was inactive. When it moved to the new site I began to receive the numerous treasures that were hidden within the messages and texts. I now look at each word from the perspective of siddham. This allows me to open to a larger perspective. Some of the discussions have led me to experience the advaita realm rather than the advaya realm. I especially benefitted from the effect of understanding the advaita explanation of the the burnout of the causal body after extended periods in the realm of jñana. The advaita explanation matched perfectly with not only my experience but the experience of many of my students. Continue reading

Q.492 Consciousness and consciousness

Q: Shankara often wrote the descriptor “pure Consciousness” to point to Brahman.
1. What does “pure Consciousness” have to do with conventional consciousness, as in “I’m conscious of this or that?” Does chidabhasa explain it?

A: chidAbhAsa is the best metaphor, I think, (it is pratibimba vAda and associated with vivaraNa). The other main one is avachCheda vAda, associated with bhAmatI, which uses the idea of upAdhi-s. Consciousness (big ‘C’) is typically used to refer to non-dual reality; ‘c’onsciousness is the manifestation of ‘C’onsciousness in the mind of man.

2. Is there a difference between Consciousness (as-if paramartha level) and existence?

A: As you know (!) you cannot define or say anything objective about Consciousness. Ideally  you should read the long Shankara commentary on satyam j~nAnam anantam brahma in Taittiriya Upanishad 2.1. That explains how such ‘descriptions’ work. The adjectives qualify-support-limit each other so that you do not take any single one as in any way a descriptive attribute. If you want, you could say that Brahman is limitless-existence-consciousness. But at the pAramArthika level, you cannot say anything at all about Brahman!

3. If there is a difference, which is more fundamental: Consciousness or existence? I.e. which gives rise to which? Why (not the other way)?

A: I cannot really add anything to the previous answer.

Q.490 Consciousness and the Brain

Q: My question is one I can’t seem to clarify through any book, teacher or teaching:

How do we know that the brain isn’t responsible for consciousness? While we can observe mind with all of it’s contents as objects and then say we cannot be that which we observe, how can we be sure that there is not just some part of the brain which does the observing that is giving us this ability to watch thought? How does Vedanta address this? How can we know that the brain isn’t simply the one observing all phenomena?

Side note: I lost consciousness once due to a fall and blacked out, and all I can say is that there was complete absence of being and no one there to be aware of the non-beingness. No observer nor observed. Beyond no-thing. Absolutely no experience beyond the concept of the word. Continue reading

Q.489 Creation and reincarnation

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

If Ishvara/mAyA:

  • then who/what is Ishvara and how does it create the universe?
  • then how does adhyAsa come into the picture because if Ishvara 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. Continue reading

Q.487 Suicide

Q: Since feelings, perceptions and thoughts require a body-mind, and who I truly am is Atman (= brahman), then why should one not commit suicide in order to escape their mental suffering? When they die they will only remain as ‘brahman’. I know the concept of karma is used to scare people away from suicide, but this doesnt exist since brahman (who you really are) feels nothing and does not experiernce it. So what do you have other than the concept of karma to logically persuade someone out of suicide?

A: It is the person that ‘suffers’ and contemplates suicide, because he believes himself to be the body-mind and identifies with the perceived pains and negative emotions. If you KNOW that you are Brahman, then you also know that you are not the person. There may still be physical pains and the mind may still throw up negative emotions but there is no longer any identification. You know that you are even now perfect and complete; there is no identification with body, mind or world because you know they are not real. Indeed they are your own ‘manifestations’, simply the effect of past causes that affect the body-mind appearance. They do not affect who-you-really-are. Why try to change them?

But unless the person knows this, you are never going to convince someone who is contemplating suicide. They need more empirically conventional solutions such as drugs and counselling!

If you are not happy with this response, I can throw it open to the other bloggers and see if they come up with anything better.

Q.446 satyam, j~nAnam anantam brahma

Q: Does the phrase satyam j~nAnam anantam brahma means truth-knowledge limitless or Existence-consciousness limitless? (The latter is the definition given by Swami Dayananda in one of the summer camp tapes.)

A: Strictly speaking, sat means real, existence or being; sattA means being or existence; satya means truth or being. If you look up ‘existence’, you will probably find asti or astitvam. If you look up ‘sat’ in Monier-Williams, one of the meanings is ‘that which really is, entity or existence, essence, the true being or really existent’. If you look up ‘sattva’, you get ‘being, existence, entity, reality, true essence’.

So the answer is that both are used in either context and there is no clear meaning associated with either (and I have come across both being used in both meanings. I am fairly sure that Swami D has used both to mean ‘existence’ and both to mean ‘truth’. Sanskrit is a very versatile language! (But, if you ever come across me using it clearly in one way and Swami D using it in another, take Swamiji’s meaning! He knew Sanskrit inside out; I don’t!) Continue reading

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!