On the face of it, this is a well-written and readable book, ideally suited for a new seeker. E.g. the sections on ‘The Illusory Nature of the Separate Self’ and ‘Knowledge Dispels Ignorance’ are excellent.
Unfortunately, should any reader accept everything that is written at its face value, they will come away with some serious confusions. In what follows, I apologize in advance for some of what may seem to be harsh criticisms, but my own perception of these points is heightened as a result of spending the last year writing my own work on ‘confusions’ of precisely this sort.
The author uses the traditional teaching method of adhyāropa-apavāda but it is not made clear when what is being said is only provisional. Also, there are very few references to the source of what is being presented. (And one of those that is provided doesn’t exist!) There are many places where the author writes ‘as Shankara said’ but scarcely a single pointer to where he said it. There are numerous places where I, as an informed reader, need those references before I will even consider what is being said to be credible!
[Note that the conventional view of how we perceive objects is what is called the Representational theory of perception. This is the belief that light rays from a source hit the object and are reflected to the eye of the observer. The light is focused by the eye onto the retina, where it triggers responses in receptors. Electrical signals are generated, which pass along the optic nerve and thence to the visual cortex of the brain. Something else then happens to make us somehow reconstruct an image of the original object. It is this representation that is actually perceived and not the object itself.
I am in the process of reviewing old material relating to Advaita Academy as part of my background research for a 2nd edition of Back to the Truth. There are a number of essays, blogs and book reviews by myself and others which I will be reposting here over the next few months (they can no longer be found on-line at present). Here is the first of these – a two-part essay by Peter Bonnici, explaining why Sanskrit is so valuable and why a qualified teacher is necessary. Dennis
Sanskrit: language of the gods – Peter Bonnici
There are many who declare themselves to be students of advaita vedAnta but do not see the value in pursuing the study of texts in Sanskrit as they believe that the proliferation of translations and commentaries on texts like the Upanishads and Bhagavad GIta available in native languages are sufficient. Then there are those who have a working knowledge of Sanskrit who feel that, armed with a dictionary and other necessary tools, they can arrive at the meaning of texts by themselves.
Both are missing something, and for the same reason: namely, the enormous expressiveness, subtlety and flexibility of the language to express the precise meaning that the speaker or writer wishes to convey. (Most of the valuable teaching of advaita was passed on orally and the written form came later.) Not only is one missing out the subtlety of meaning by side-stepping the language, but one can also be lulled into a false sense of security by the book knowledge one has. An example of this can be seen when one compares translations. Here are three translations of the first verse of shankara’s DakShiNamUrti Stotra:
Bad news: Some readers may have noticed that the series ‘Introduction to Vedanta’ by Dr. K. Sadananda disappeared from my website a few days ago.
Good news: The series has now been published by Sethu R Rathinam in a quality, 218 page paperback and as an E-book on Amazon Kindle.
From my foreword to the book:
‘An Introduction to Vedanta’ was originally serialized on the Advaitin discussion group where it was justifiably well-received. As they say in the advertising media: ‘it does what it says on the box.’ It covers all of the material needed to introduce the subject to a new seeker, clarifying aspects that could otherwise prove difficult or even dampen enthusiasm. He never talks down to his listeners but speaks directly to them using everyday examples that resonate immediately. No doubt he benefits from having been taught directly by Swami Chinmayananda and more recently by many other teachers including Swami Tejomayananda and Swami Paramarthananda, but his scientific background also brings naturally clear reasoning ability to his analysis of the subject with the result that he seems able to explain the most difficult topics.
Anyone looking for an overview of the essential teaching of Advaita could not do better than to read this Introduction.
And I consider myself fully qualified to recommend the book since I editied it myself!
Science has achieved a lot; and it promises to do so in the future. The spirit of scientific enquiry based on theory and experiment is the bedrock on which humanity has progressed. The humans have this unique thirst to know which set them apart from other conscious beings. The spirit of knowledge and enquiry has made our lives comfortable over so many centuries. It has its own detractors. Science has given us the atom bomb too and the methods of mass destruction. Maybe, science has also equipped us with destroying ourselves. But, the fact remains that scientific enquiry will never stop so long as humans are alive, because the spirit of knowing more about the world is one of the prime movers in the individual and the collective scheme of things. However, there comes a point when the scientists must give up, put their hands up in despair, and shout,’ We cannot go any further’. There are certain edges beyond which everything is in a state of permanent fog and a mist. The author calls them the ‘known unknowns’. The book is a brilliant exposition of these edges of science which are beyond the grasp of the human mind presently. Continue reading →
We featured an extract from this book by Dr. Raju Chidambaram back in July. I have since read (some of!) the book and written this review. I emailed the review to Dr. Chidambaram and he has written a reply, which follows the review.
Here are two (related) book reviews which may be of particular interest to readers of our new serialization of ‘The Dream Problem’.
Nearly 2 years ago, the film of the moment was ‘Inception’, directed by Christopher Nolan. And this justifiably went on to win four Academy Awards. Friends told me how good this film was but, as is quite normal regarding films, I did not actually get to see it until some time after it came out on DVD. Since I have been a fan of science fiction ever since my childhood, I realized fairly quickly what this film was about in a general sense. Nevertheless, it was obvious that the story was quite complex and that all of the nuances could never be fully appreciated with one viewing. Accordingly, even at the time, I wondered whether anyone would write a book about it. (Of course, I realized that there would be a deluge of blogs on the subject but there is the slight problem of not having sufficient time to look, as well as not knowing which ones would be worth reading.) Continue reading →