“Seeing” Objects per Advaita –

We all take it for granted that there is a world full of objects, plants, animals, people and so on out there external to us. All of us also believe that we are born into a world which pre-exists us.

The general public wonder how this enormous world came into being. The scientists study the various facets of its origin and evolution; philosophers conceptualize different ethereal theories for its creation; artists and poets sing peans in its praise.

Advaitins, on the other hand, are unique in their bold pronouncement that the appearance of a world is a mere mental projection, no more than a hallucination.

In order to explain their doctrine, they ask us to rewind our tape, go back to our own birth, the birth of all our ancestors, nay, not only the forefathers but humanity and life itself and beyond — including the very beginning of any living or non-living matter. In other words, clean out the slate completely. And begin at the very beginning. To help us in the process, Advaita tells us that the entire range of things we observe in the whole of the universe can be reduced to two categories: Continue reading

One to many to One – 2/2

Part – 1

The Redemption:

Suggesting a way out of this quagmire of samsAra, Shankara observes:

तं पुनर्देहाभिमानादशरीरस्वरूपविज्ञानेन निवर्तिताविवेकज्ञानमशरीरं सन्तं प्रियाप्रिये स्पृशतः 

Meaning: The same Being, however, when, Its “ignorance in the shape of Its notion of the body being the Self” has been set aside by Its Knowledge of its real “unbodied” nature, then pleasure and pain do not touch It.

धर्माधर्मकार्ये हि ते ; अशरीरता तु स्वरूपमिति तत्र धर्माधर्मयोरसम्भवात् तत्कार्यभावो दूरत एवेत्यतो प्रियाप्रिये स्पृशतः

Meaning: The reason for this (i.e., the absence of pleasure and pain) lies in the fact that pleasure and pain are the effects of merit and demerit, while the real nature of the Self is being unbodied, so, that merit and demerit being impossible in the latter, the appearance of their effect is still further off. Hence, the pleasure and pain do not touch It.

It is important to understand here that unlike the bodily pleasure and pain, the Bliss of the Self is something inherent to It. That Bliss is not a transient feature like ‘touch’ which appears and disappears. We have support for this contention from other shruti mantras too. Shankara writes: Continue reading

One to many to One – 1/2

Shankara’s genius in imparting the true unadulterated message of Advaita (a-dvaita) philosophy shines with the brilliance of thousand  Suns in his commentary at the mantra 8.12.1, chAndogya Upanishad.

Prof. M. Hiriyanna writes in his book, “Outlines of Indian Philosophy,” 1993, that “In some passages the Absolute is presented as cosmic or all-comprehensive in Its nature (saprapanca); in some others again, as acosmic or all-exclusive (niShprapanca).” The cultural Heritage of India,” Vol 1, 1937, observes that the chAndogya Upanishad “seems to teach mainly the ‘saprapanca’ view of Reality.”

Gaudapada, the first human preceptor of Advaita Vedanta, however, writes with unwavering certitude in his kArikA-s (3.48 and 4.71) on mANDUkya Upanishad, “No individual is ever born; there does not exist any reason which can produce an individual creature.”

The chAndogya, Upanishad, follows the popular teaching ‘methodology’ of Advaita, called the “Superimposition – Sublation model.” This model assumes that a world created by a Godhead pre-exists the seeker who is born into it. Thus, the very structure of the model requires positing Lord Ishwara as the Creator and a world for him  to ‘lord’ over. In line with this thinking, this Upanishad ends declaring that the seeker attains ‘brahmaloka‘ (the world where the Lord lives) on the death of the gross body. It says in its mantra, 8.15.1: Continue reading

What Happens After Self-realization? – 3/3

Part – 2/3 

What happens to the Consciousness part after Self-realization (figurative merger)? – (Continued from Part – 2/3)

Shankara formulates our question in a slightly different manner in his introduction to the subject matter at the Section 4 of the Chapter 4, Vedanta sUtra-s. He states:

“The chAndogya Upanishad at 8.12.3 tells us that ‘after having risen from this body and after having reached the highest light, this serene happy being becomes established in Its own real form (i.e. Self or nature).’ Does that being become manifest with some adventitious distinction (as it may happen in a special region like heaven) or is It established as the Self alone? What could be the final conclusion?”

Shankara is very categorical and clear in his answer and commentary at the next three aphorisms (# 534-536). In the words of Swami Krishnananda, “Emancipation is a cessation of all bondage and not the accession of something new, just as health is merely the removal of illness and not a new acquisition. If release is nothing new that is acquired by the individual self, then what is its difference from bondage? The jIva was stained in the state of bondage by the three states, i.e., the state of waking, dreaming and dreamless sleep.” Continue reading

What Happens After Self-realization? – 2/3

Part – 1

The brihadAraNyaka Upanishad says:

 यदा सर्वे प्रमुच्यन्ते कामा येऽस्य हृदि श्रिताः  अथ मर्त्योऽमृतो भवत्यत्र ब्रह्म समश्नुत इति   — 4.4.7, brihadAraNyaka.   

Meaning:  When all the desires that dwell in his heart (mind) are gone, then he, having been mortal, becomes immortal, and attains brahman in this very body. (Translation: Swami Madhavananada.]

Shankara clarifies at this mantra that “It is virtually implied that desires concerning things other than the Self fall under the category of ignorance, and are but forms of death. Therefore, on the cessation of death, the man of realization becomes immortal. And attains brahman, the identity with brahman, i.e. liberation, living in this very body. Hence liberation does not require such things as going to some other place.” (Translation: Swami Madhavananada.]

Further, Shankara observes at 4.4.6, brihadAraNaka that “Therefore, as we have also said, the cessation of ignorance alone is commonly called liberation, like the disappearance of the snake, for instance, from the rope when the erroneous notion about its existence has been dispelled.” Continue reading

What Happens After Self-realization? – 1/3

[What exactly happens to the “sense of separate self” after “realization of the Self” depends on whether one seeks saguNa brahman (a favorite Godhead or Ishwara) or Nirguna (attributeless) brahman. The Vedanta sUtra-s in the Section 3 and those at the later part of Section 4 of Chapter 4 deal with the result of following the former. The aphorisms # 534 to 542 in Section 4 of the Chapter 4 tell us about the latter. We shall in this Series of three Posts consider the latter case of following nirguNa brahman.]

“What happens after Self-realization?” is a tantalizing question many of us would like to ask.

But before a sensible answer is given to that question, one should have a very clear idea of two other closely related questions: “What is liberation?” and “Who is it that gets actually liberated?”

There can be many answers to these three questions. The answers will vary depending on one’s own understanding, teaching model followed, the explanatory theories used, devices adopted for practice and so on. However, any given answer has to be within the bounds of an overarching condition that circumscribes the Advaita philosophy. That is to say that the answer has to smoothly and seamlessly segue into the two aspects that the Advaita doctrine holds supreme and uncontestable. The two aspects are: Continue reading

Substance, Substratum and Show

Yes, the entire superstructure of the edifice of Advita Vedanta is built on three words –‘Substance, Substratum and Show (or Appearance).’ These three words are very basic to its logic. All further development of its concepts, definitions and finer and more complex definitions of the doctrine depend on what the trio of words – Substance, Substratum and Show (or Appearance) – conveys.

Therefore, it is of utmost necessity that a student of Advaita should first have a clear and unambiguous grasp of what these words (or rather their equivalents in the original Sanskrit language) mean. Even a hair width of lack of clarity in understanding these three innocently looking words can lead to disproportionately disastrous misconceptions and misinterpretations of what Advaita is all about!

Let us first look at what any simple English dictionary gives the meaning of these three words to be. Starting there will help us appreciate better what the Sanskrit equivalents connote and how an aura of technicality surrounds those words when we use them in Advaita Vedanta. Continue reading

Process of Self-inquiry

It is a misconception to think that the process of Self-inquiry “leads” the seeker to the “Self.” It is not a positive process of movement like travel – starting from a station ‘A’ and arriving at the destination ‘B,’ keeping me, myself and my luggage intact safe and secure. One cannot look for novel experiences enroute like on a train journey nor does one hope to devour the scenic beauty along the path. Nor “I,” the inquirer, will find the Self at the end to shake hands or get a hug.

Self-inquiry is actually a process of becoming totally naked. Yes, Absolutely naked – not even retaining the modest covering that we dearly call as our body. It’s a negative process, a process of being disembodied. One has to lose not only whatever one thinks that s/he possesses (the entire bundle that can be put under ‘mine’ including objects, people, relationships etc.), but also whatever s/he thinks s/he is (all that defines what a ‘me’ is).

The two keywords that play a role in the process of Self-inquiry are: Continue reading

AtmajnAnopadeshavidhi

It is well known that Shankara had written many precise and specific treatises on Advaita Vedanta for the benefit of the followers within his Ashram system. “Atma jnAna upadesha vidhi” (“The Way To Impart Self-knowledge”) is a much valued and revered prakaraNa grantha among the saints but not that popularly known outside the circle of monks. Swami Ananda Giri has a special love for this text.

I give below a short Review of this monograph of Shankara written by Mahamandaleshwar brahma Shri Maheshananda Giri Maharaj, Pontiff of the Shri Dakshinamurti Peetha, Varanasi, India, published in 2004. Continue reading

Shankara at 1.4.10, brihadAraNyaka

Revered Shankara is by nature such a perfect and committed bhAShyakAra (Commentator) that he never deviates from the text on which he is commenting upon. He always stays within the bounds of the purport of the textual line that he abhors to venture out to  exploring the connected lanes and bylanes related to the topic or give vent to his own ideas based on his knowledge. However, in the entire corpus of the bhAShya literature  of his, there are a handful or about half a dozen places where he takes liberty to make certain observations of his own. Very rare precious gems, unavailable for the reader anywhere else in the whole gamut of shruti and smriti lore come out from his pen in those few occasions. One that immediately comes to mind is his expanded commentary at 13.2, BGB where he lets out the fact that the ignorance of not knowing one’s own true nature belongs to that very person who thinks he has ignorance. He raises the question and answers himself: Continue reading