Karma and Advaita:

A Question asked at a Social Network Group:

“Is there a room for a concept of karma within non-duality? Is karma not another concessionary concept, useful only for the mind still caught in the belief of cause and effect?

A Reply:

It is very important and valuable in Shankara Advaita to have a correct perspective on ‘karma.’

It is, however, futile to expect or to give a one word or even a one line answer to the question. To do so will be an insult to the question itself!

Your hunch that “karma is another concessionary concept, useful only for the mind still caught in the belief of cause and effect” is very true, if you consider the seeker to be no more than a distilled mass of 2-3 lbs of brain. But fortunately or unfortunately, that mass of brain always comes with many appendages and appurtenances. Those can never sit tight! Continue reading

Shankara Advaita vs. Shiva Advaita:

Many of the current popular Non-dual teachers in the West, both from the USA and UK, seem to present a version of Advaita which is a mix of Shankara’s philosophy and Kashmir Shaivism. Their audience, who are usually less inclined to accept the requirement of a prolonged prior mental preparation (called the “Purification of the mind” (cittasuddhi) insisted by the traditional Advaita, savour this mix essentially for two reasons. One is that the Karma theory and the concept of rebirth which are very much an integral part of Shankara’s teaching gets rarely mentioned by the Western teachers. The other is that the Western tech-savvy mind appears to prefer a world that is One seamless Whole without divisions (advaita) as the Reality in preference to a world which becomes totally apparitional as Shankara avers, post Self-realization.

A recent publication titled “Liberation and the World- in Advaita Vedanta and Pratyabhijna” by Klara Hedling** attempts to pin point precisely where the Advaita philosophy of Shankara differs from the Non-dualism of Kashmir Shaivism. An excerpt from it follows: Continue reading

Jivanmukta and Jivanmukti – 12/12

[Part – 11/12]

NDM:  R.D. Laing said “True sanity entails in one way or another the dissolution of the normal ego, that false self competently adjusted to our alienated social reality… and through this death a rebirth and the eventual re-establishment of a new kind of ego-functioning, the ego now being the servant of the divine, no longer its betrayer.”

In the west, when this happens it is referred to as when an ego collapses, fragments, or disintegrates and when the shadow and archetypal contents flood in from the personal and collective unconscious causing psychosis, or a psychotic break from reality.  

In the east, its considered Self-realization or God-realization, seeing the face of God, Shiva and so on?  

How do you make the distinction between a psychotic break like this here and a satori or awakening experience? 

Ramesam Vemuri:  Any of the psychological phenomena, hallucinations, lack of control, inability to filter diverse and dissonant signals coming to the brain (schizophrenia) are all related to the activity of the mind.  So also visions etc.  These have a clear signature in the brain.  Orgasmic or epiphany states are also clearly seen in the activity of different cortical regions (see: Pleasure of Sex vs. Bliss of Self in Brain Scans, Religion Demystified, 2008, p: 86-88).

In contrast, Advaita is about when the activity of the mind is zeroed.  Continue reading

Jivanmukta and Jivanmukti – 11/12:

[Part – 10/12]

NDM: Ok, what about the belief in karma? Reincarnation? Whatever the incorporeal essence is that some believe transmigrates.   

It is known in different spiritual traditions; “the most sacred body” (wujud al-aqdas) and “supracelestial body” (jism asli haqiqi) in Sufism, “the diamond body” in Taoism and Vajrayana, “the light body” or “rainbow body” in Tibetan Buddhism, “the body of bliss” in Kriya Yoga, and “the immortal body” (soma athanaton) in Hermeticism.  

Karana-Sarira – causal body, subtle body, Jiva, “Atman” and “Purusha”  in Vedanta.  Budhuta, Linga Sharira in  Theosophy.  Rudolf Steiner’s Anthroposophical teachings usually referred to the Etheric and Astral Bodies. American Indians and indigenous peoples from around the world refer to this as aspirit, animism, or guide.  

Others like James Hillman call this psyche.  These are the various ethereal bodies that some believe contain samskAra-s, or sin and so on?  Do you believe that such an ethereal essence or a thing exists?  

What are all these various traditions talking about or pointing to exactly?
Continue reading

Jivanmukta and Jivanmukti – 10/12:

[Part – 9/12]

[NDM: Also what about this sensitive money issue that seems to hit a raw nerve when ever it’s raised. 

Is there anything right or wrong with doing this?  Is there anything right or wrong with making a few , rupee’s on this ancient non dual teaching?  What is your take on this controversial and almost taboo question?]

Ramesam Vemuri:  First of all no question need be a taboo.  If a particular doubt posits itself as a stumbling block, well, it should be attended to.

The ancient Indian system advises a student to redeem his indebtedness to the teacher by rendering service, by payment in kind or cash or in the absence of any other means of repaying, by passing on the wisdom obtained by him to others after taking Guru’s permission.  This obviously shows the necessity of some accepted social structural norm to preserve and propagate the knowledge to others.  Does this mean that the ‘wisdom’ is on sale or available for prostitution by the highest bidder?  Moreover, a seeker had to be eligible to receive the wisdom, the most important criterion being his single minded unswerving devotion for liberation in exclusion to any other desire (including food, clothing, wealth, status etc.).

The ancient sages foresaw a danger also in throwing open the knowledge for one and all because it can be detrimental to the very health of the individual and the society, if it is misunderstood and/or incompletely understood. Continue reading

Jivanmukta and Jivanmukti – 9/12:

[Part – 8/12]     

NDM: So without a teacher/guru of some kind, how does one navigate a path through this non-dual jungle? How did you do this without falling into all the traps like getting stuck in the absolute, or only seeing half the picture and the other pitfalls?

Ramesam Vemuri::  Non-duality is not the jungle.  Non-duality is clarity.  Information on it, about it and around it is the jungle!

One of the derivative meanings for the Sanskrit word Guru is, as you may have known: “the dispeller (ru) of darkness (gu).” In the ancient times when knowledge is transmitted through oral tradition, a human Guru (dispeller of darkness or ignorance) was necessarily required because the Guru was the only information source. Each Guru developed, used and expanded certain terminology to explain the Truth as realized by that Guru to a lineage of his disciples.

Fast forward to the present day.  We have now multimedia storage devices as information resources and satellite communication technologies for its dissemination.  These do dilute the mandatory requirement of a human Guru (dispeller of ignorance).

The more important question is how do we manage with the information ‘overload’ and distinguish the grain from the chaff. Continue reading

Jivanmukta and Jivanmukti – 8/12:

[Part – 7/12]      

NDM:  Did you ever formally study traditional Advaita Vedanta?  

Ramesam Vemuri:  I should at the outset say that other than as a matter, perhaps, of curiosity, me or what I did is utterly inconsequential; it need not to be considered important. I never studied Advaita formally under a Guru-sishya sampradAya (tradition) nor did I pursue any particular teacher or Ashram.  In fact, I feel repulsed to “follow” any organized system that upfront demands obsequious obeisance, dictates a belief structure, creates a hope and promises a distant carrot.

My spiritual inquiry, if I may use that term, has been more like the pursuit of research in science – define the problem as it arises, do a literature search, then investigate, check and cross check to the extent possible and so on.  In this process I was exposed to Zen, a wide variety of teachers in Advaita (from traditional to Direct path to Neo) and also bits and pieces of other systems. Undoubtedly there is a greater influence of Advaitic thought of the ancient Indian texts on me simply because they are some of the finest philosophical texts based on logic and were also the more readily accessible resources for me.  I am truly indebted to each one of them and also to the innumerable people who helped me in arriving at a clear understanding.

NDM: Is there any particular method or study out of all these various ways that clicked with you over the others?
Continue reading

Jivanmukta and Jivanmukti – 7/12:

[Part – 6/12]                                         

NDM: What would you say are the odds of someone being “enlightened” also becoming a Jivanmukta?

Ramesam Vemuri:  Advaita holds that everyone is already a Jivanmukta.  Some scriptures unequivocally declare that the mind is most important.  If it knows clearly that it is unbound, it is free.  If it thinks it is bound, it is in bondage!

And incidentally, the Advaita teaching does not say one “becomes” a Jivanmukta. The teaching is that “You are That.”  It is not to ‘become’ but just to ‘be.’

Enlightenment or the first glimpses of ‘realization’ may entitle one to be called as a Jivanmukta.  But to be unceasingly in/as brahman, one has to overcome several of the distractions that the mind keeps posing.

NDM: The one question that really interests me is what someone can do about their vAsanA-s if they are enlightened, but still have problems with them?  Continue reading

Jivanmukta and Jivanmukti – 6/12:

 [Part – 5/12]

NDM: What about an energetic shift?  Does this also take place?

Ramesam Vemuri:  A particular individual may call his experience as an ‘energetic shift’ and only he can tell what those terms signify.  Most people may figuratively express “realization” as a change in perspective, a sort of re-orientating, rather than as anything extra-ordinary or dramatic.

NDM: So if the understanding isn’t crystal clear, are you saying this is the reason why one may not become a Jivanmukta?

Ramesam Vemuri:  That is true.  Absolute clarity without even a speck of confusion or doubt on the teaching (shall we call the “theory”?) of Advaita is a must and is the primary step. Lack of clarity or misunderstanding can lead one astray into pursuit of false mental states, fancy expectations and may even result in unhealthy minds or dead ends.

NDM: Will crystal clear knowledge wipe out all vAsanA-s? Continue reading

Jivanmukta and Jivanmukti – 5/12:

[Part – 4/12]

NDM: What is the difference with simply being enlightenment in the advaitin sense, knowing one is Brahman, infinite, eternal non-dual awareness and so on and being a Jivanmukta?

Ramesam Vemuri:  The first and foremost thing is the knowing of information “I am brahman.”  This has to be understood by the mind intellectually.  It is the shravaNa (Listening) phase.  Next is to assimilate it and internalize it to the extent that no doubt remains in one’s mind about the Truth of that statement.  This is the manana (Reflection) phase.  After being firmly convinced and free of doubts, one needs to continuously stay with it as brahman (not become brahman but be brahman).  This is the nididhyAsana (Contemplation and Meditation) phase.  Jivanmukta is one who unwaveringly and unbrokenly abides as brahman.

NDM: Why would one person become enlightened and get the added benefits of bliss, no aversions, fears, desires and being a Jivanmukta, while another may not?   Is this grace, karma, or because of one’s practice or some other factors involved?

Ramesam Vemuri:  If one continues to mistake the rope as snake or the understanding is only superficial, his understanding is obviously incomplete. Continue reading