In Search of Brahman

Hi everyone! I’m new to the blogger community here. To set some context: I’m a spiritual eclectic who draws from different traditions, mainly Advaita Vedanta, Buddhism, and Krishnamurti/Bohm. I’m also a dyed-in-the-wool skeptic, a passionate via negativa guy: Neti neti all the way up and all the way down.

I realize that “In Search of Brahman” is an odd title for a blog on an Advaita website, because Brahman is not an object that can be lost or found. But the title is symptomatic of where I’m at in my personal journey, so I think it’s appropriate.

Ever since I first ran into the term Brahman (about a decade ago in one of Dennis’s books) it’s been a source of great wonder and equally great confusion for me.

On the wonder side, it brought me back to my early childhood when I used to think, with a mixture of awe and fear, about the Catholic notion of the never-ending succession of days I’d eventually spend in Heaven. For a while I’d flow along with an ecstatic feeling of infinite existence, and then at some point fear and confusion would enter, and my brain would short-circuit and shut down.

On the confusion side, it boils down to something like this: I see no necessity for Brahman. There are other views of the nature of reality that are equally plausible to me. The Buddhist view that everything is empty of inherent existence. Or the scientific view that reality is an emergent phenomenon. Or the Bohmian implicate/explicate order model. Or the Whiteheadian view that it’s all a grand interwoven process. (NB: I realize I’m reducing these views dramatically, so take the descriptions with hefty grains of salt!)

There is no definitive proof for or against any of these, including Brahman. Now you could say (and many do) that the proof is in the pudding, that once you *know* beyond the shadow of a doubt that you are Brahman and Brahman is the one without a second, there’s your proof. Alas … I am exquisitely aware of just how profoundly the mind can fool itself into believing, with utter certainty, pretty much anything it wants to believe.

And you could say, as traditional Advaita does, that there is no proof of Brahman, that a seeker must trust the word of the scriptures. But that doesn’t do much for me, many spiritual traditions say the same thing about their scriptures, scriptures that vary dramatically in their teachings! Why should a skeptic trust one tradition to have gotten it 100% right?

And yet, and yet … something in me thinks-feels that Advaita *has* gotten it right, perhaps more than any other tradition, that it really is as perfectly simple as: I = Brahman is the one true reality.

I think I’ll stop there for now. Lots more to come, but I would enjoy hearing your reactions to what I’ve written so far.

Thanks for reading, and thanks to Dennis for letting me participate here!

Rick

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About Rick

I am an eclectic seeker (Advaita, Buddhism, Taoism, Krishnamurti, Bohm) who lives just outside a small village in Western New York State.

13 thoughts on “In Search of Brahman

  1. Hi Rick,

    Welcome to blogging on Advaita.

    Most of the traditions demand you to have faith in them otherwise they threaten you with eternal hell and as you mentioned they offer no definitive proof.

    Advaita is the only philosophy that does not demand one to have blind faith. In fact it encourages questioning and reasoning. It also provides proof. To realize that proof one needs to have an extremely sharp intellect, pure and calm mind, subdued ego, single pointed concentration, earnestness, patience, perseverance, etc. After all you are trying to seek the highest Truth and hence some preparation is necessary for the seeker.

    You wanted the proof of Brahman. Ask yourself who is demanding the proof. The answer would be “I”. Then ask who is this “I”. That Real I is Brahman which you already are but unfortunately due to the ignorance which has engulfed every one alike we are not able to realize it. This is the teaching of Ramana Maharshi.

    According to Upanishads, “the seeker is the sought” which again conveys the same meaning that the seeker is already Brahman but unable to realize it due to ignorance.

    Let us consider the example of electricity which powers various devices such as bulb, TV, refrigerator, etc. If you take the bulb, it came into existence (birth) at some point of time and will not exist (death) after some point of time. So a bulb is entitled to think that I am a puny little device that has taken birth and would die after some time. But if it were to realize the underlying Reality which is electricity then the bulb would say “I might have a particular name and form having a particular capability which is to provide light, but I am really the nameless and formless electricity which is eternal (birthless and deathless) and this Reality is one and the same for all other electrical devices whether all other devices have realized it or not”.

    In the same way according to Upanishads, a nameless and formless entity called Brahman powers all the organs in our body such as eyes, ears, nose, heart, etc. and it also powers our mind due to which the mind becomes Aware. If one practices to exist as pure Awareness without being aware of anything including one’s own body then the Self-Realization can happen and one can have the direct experience that “I am not the body or the name given to the body. I am indeed the nameless, formless and eternal Brahman that manifests as pure Awareness or pure Consciousness in the mind and it is the same Brahman that is powering all other beings”.

    After the direct experience of Self-Realization no more practice is necessary. The ignorance is gone for ever and the knowledge gained that “I am Brahman” stays for ever. Such a person is called Jnani and such person with utmost ease exists as Pure Awareness or Pure Consciousness without doing any thinking or without being bothered by any kind of thought.

    Happy Blogging !!

    Regards

  2. I would have to take issue with a couple of things you have said here, Arun. But they will crop up later in the pratibandha series so watch out for them! E.g. your bulb-electricity metaphor is a good one but needs more interpretation. If a particular lit bulb could say ‘I’, to what would it be referring?

    Best wishes,
    Dennis

  3. Hi Dennis,

    Let us take various parts of bulb such as the glass container, metal part(s), filament, etc. and together call it as the body of the bulb.

    Continuing the metaphor, when the bulb says “I” it is ALWAYS referring to its body before its realization of the Reality. Once it realizes the underlying Reality that is powering it which is the nameless, formless, electricity then when the bulb says “I” it is referrring to its underlying Reality which is electricity. At this stage the bulb is entitled to say “I” or just “I am” or at the most “I am electricity” then it is referring to its substratum. But if it says “I am a 100 watts bulb” then it is Vyavaharika Satya and it is referring to its name and form and not the underlying Reality.

    Similarly, before Self-Realization when a person says “I” he is ALWAYS referring to “body” or “mind” or “ego-self” or all of them put together. After Self-Realization when one says “I” he is referring to the nameless, formless entity called Brahman that is powering both the body and the mind. At this stage the person is entitled to say “I” or “I am” or at the most “I am Brahman” then the person is referring to the substratum. But if one says “I am 6 feet tall” then it is Vyavaharika Satya and it is referring to the person’s name and form and not the underlying Reality.

    Your comments please.

    Regards
    Arun

  4. Hi Arun, thanks for the reply! 🙂

    You wrote:

    You wanted the proof of Brahman. Ask yourself who is demanding the proof. The answer would be “I”. Then ask who is this “I”. That Real I is Brahman which you already are but unfortunately due to the ignorance which has engulfed every one alike we are not able to realize it. This is the teaching of Ramana Maharshi.

    For comparison, I’ll share my answers with you.

    Who is demanding the proof?
    I am.

    Who (or what) is this I?
    I could be ‘that’ to which Brahman points.
    I could be a mind-body that mistakes itself for I.
    I could be a web of causally interconnected phenomena that emerges as I.
    I could be a soul that endures from incarnation to incarnation.
    I could be none of the above, something else entirely.

    I see many different possible answers to “Who am I?” Some are more compelling to me, others less. But none enjoys the status of an ultimately privileged frame = absolute Truth. They’re all the products of blind men touching different parts of an elephant, true within their own frameworks, but not beyond.

    Just to be clear, I’m sharing my views, NOT trying to assert something as true.

  5. Hi Rick,

    I want to make some general statements before I attempt to reply to you.

    As Ramesam mentioned in one of his comments, though the entire world is busy in its hustle and bustle, we few folks here are interested in discussing Advaita and contemplating on Brahman. Despite the great distances separating us, thanks to the Internet, we are able to have this Satsangha for which we need to be grateful and thankful to each other.

    At all times we need to remember that we all are fellow Advaitins and need to have love, camaraderie, trust and respect to each other. It is the normal tendency of our mind (ego) to think about counter point even when we are just half way into reading a sentence of other person. This makes one impetuous, completely disregard other person’s point of view, dismiss other person as confused and sometimes completely misinterpret and misunderstand what was not intended at all.

    To make progress towards the goal of Advaita one requires a very CALM MIND and all the things mentioned above are impediments. We are not here to prove a point or to exhibit one’s knowledge. We are here to enjoy discussing Advaita and try to make advancement in the path of Advaita.

    Just felt like mentioning few general points. Please do not mistake.

    For the question “who is this I demanding the proof?” you mentioned several valid points. You became “Aware” of all those points in your mind before you could pen them as sentences. In the final point you deny all the points mentioned by saying “it could be none of the above” but it is obvious that you are “Aware” of this denial also. Advaita says you are this “Awareness”. You are this “Consciousness”. “Prajnanam Brahma” is the Mahavakya (Great Sentence) from Aitareya Upanishad of Rig Veda which means “Consciousness is Brahman”.

    Everything in this world is changing. Our body is changing. Our mind is also changing and is undergoing modifications from moment to moment. What our mind is thinking now is different from what it was thinking few moments ago, few days ago, etc. But ever since we were born and ever since we can remember our Awareness has not changed. It is not like we possessed some different Awareness few years back and the Awareness or the Consciousness we have now is different. According to Advaita, the Truth (Sat) never changes and remains the same at all times and only those which are not truth (Asat) undergo change be it slowly or rapidly.

    Hence the Advaita proclaims that the only unchanging entity, the Awareness or the Consciousness is the only Reality and is the ultimate Truth to be grasped.

    IMHO the electricity metaphor really helps in improving our understanding of the Advaita philosophy. We know that a bulb or a video camera cannot function on its own and it requires electrical energy. Our eye functions exactly like a video camera but we never question what is powering the eye. Several Upanishads declare that an entity called Atman / Brahman is powering our eyes, ears and every cell or organ in our body. Svethashwatara Upanishad (1.3) uses the word “energy (Shakti)” for that entity and calls it as Atma Shakti. Devatma Shakti to be precise which means Divine Atma Shakti. Kaivalya Upanishad (1.21) also makes use of the word “energy (Shakti)” and calls it as Achintya Shakti (Incomprehensible Energy).

    Atman is also Sentient and none of our organs can manifest its Sentience and the only organ that can manifest the Atman’s Sentience is the mind. Advaita calls the mind also as an organ which is part of Sukshma Sharira (Subtle Body) while all other organs such as eyes, eyes, etc. are part of Sthoola Sharira (Gross Body). Thus the mind borrows its Awareness or Consciousness from Atman / Brahman. By existing as Silent Awareness, Pure Consciousness without any thought (which are disturbances) one can realize Atman.

    Regards
    Arun

  6. Arun,
    Parts 5 and 6 of the pratibandha posts will respond to your questions. I do not want to pre-empt these. Suffice to say for the moment that I disagree with your explanation.

  7. Arun, thanks for your response. 🙂

    > At all times we need to remember that we all are fellow Advaitins and need to have love, camaraderie, trust and respect to each other. … We are not here to prove a point or to exhibit one’s knowledge. We are here to enjoy discussing Advaita and try to make advancement in the path of Advaita.

    This sounds good and I will be sure to respect it!

    Question: As a passionate fan of neti-neti’ing I often question views, sometimes even core views. Do you see this as a potential problem here?

    Thanks!

    Rick

  8. Hi Rick,

    i felt that your questions were honest and relevant.

    As I said I wanted to make some general statements. I also requested you not to mistake it. You also replied saying that “they sound good”. As I had said they were general statements and no where did I mention or imply that they were the potential problem here.

    My question is why did your mind stop at that which is hardly 30% of my comment. The rest was completely addressed to you and you only and I am disappointed not getting a response on that.

    After those general statements, I was specifically responding to your sentence “But none enjoys the status of an ultimately privileged frame = absolute Truth”. Did I not specify what Advaita specifies as the ultimate or absolute Truth that needs to be grasped.

    This is how our thinking or our mind (ego) deceives us from grasping the absolute Truth because our ego does not want to be taken to gallows and crucified. It makes all kinds of efforts to survive and veil us from the Truth.

    I appreciate your response for the first half of my comment which was general. But I would appreciate your response for the latter part of my post which was addressed to you in particular and I honestly did expend my energy to keep it crisp, simple and on the point.

    Regards
    Arun

  9. > After those general statements, I was specifically responding to your sentence “But none enjoys the status of an ultimately privileged frame = absolute Truth”. Did I not specify what Advaita specifies as the ultimate or absolute Truth that needs to be grasped.

    I meant that *as I see it* none of these views is Absolute. I didn’t mean to assert Absolutely that none of the views is Absolute. That would be self-contradictory, right?

    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

    > For the question “who is this I demanding the proof?” you mentioned several valid points. You became “Aware” of all those points in your mind before you could pen them as sentences. In the final point you deny all the points mentioned by saying “it could be none of the above” but it is obvious that you are “Aware” of this denial also. Advaita says you are this “Awareness”. You are this “Consciousness”. “Prajnanam Brahma” is the Mahavakya (Great Sentence) from Aitareya Upanishad of Rig Veda which means “Consciousness is Brahman”.

    > Everything in this world is changing. Our body is changing. Our mind is also changing and is undergoing modifications from moment to moment. What our mind is thinking now is different from what it was thinking few moments ago, few days ago, etc. But ever since we were born and ever since we can remember our Awareness has not changed. It is not like we possessed some different Awareness few years back and the Awareness or the Consciousness we have now is different. According to Advaita, the Truth (Sat) never changes and remains the same at all times and only those which are not truth (Asat) undergo change be it slowly or rapidly.

    > Hence the Advaita proclaims that the only unchanging entity, the Awareness or the Consciousness is the only Reality and is the ultimate Truth to be grasped.

    Some of the teachings in the above three paragraphs resonate more with me, some less. For example: Yes there is awareness of denial (paragraph 1), but calling this awareness who-I-really-am doesn’t work so well for me. The awareness could be one facet of the-real-me. Or the awareness could arise from an infinity of micro-causes, without any me in the process at all. Or the whole notion of a real-me could be illusory. And so on.

    > IMHO the electricity metaphor really helps in improving our understanding of the Advaita philosophy. We know that a bulb or a video camera cannot function on its own and it requires electrical energy. Our eye functions exactly like a video camera but we never question what is powering the eye. Several Upanishads declare that an entity called Atman / Brahman is powering our eyes, ears and every cell or organ in our body. Svethashwatara Upanishad (1.3) uses the word “energy (Shakti)” for that entity and calls it as Atma Shakti. Devatma Shakti to be precise which means Divine Atma Shakti. Kaivalya Upanishad (1.21) also makes use of the word “energy (Shakti)” and calls it as Achintya Shakti (Incomprehensible Energy).

    I think portraying Brahman as electricity/energy can be a useful metaphor for giving students a sense of what the term ‘Brahman’ points to, as long as it’s clear that it’s just a metaphor. Mistaking some kind of force for Brahman might lead students astray. It’s a bit like the wave/ocean/water teaching, helpful if it’s taken as a metaphor, possibly misleading if it’s taken more literally.

    > Atman is also Sentient and none of our organs can manifest its Sentience and the only organ that can manifest the Atman’s Sentience is the mind. Advaita calls the mind also as an organ which is part of Sukshma Sharira (Subtle Body) while all other organs such as eyes, eyes, etc. are part of Sthoola Sharira (Gross Body). Thus the mind borrows its Awareness or Consciousness from Atman / Brahman. By existing as Silent Awareness, Pure Consciousness without any thought (which are disturbances) one can realize Atman.

    I’m not sure what you mean by ‘realizing’ Atman. My understanding is that we cannot experience Atman/Brahman, but we can come to know that we are Atman/Brahman. And in terms of existing as Silent Awareness … aren’t we always Silent Awareness? Perhaps you mean existing *consciously* as Silent Awareness, knowing this like we know the rope is a rope and not a snake?

  10. Hi Rick,

    I quoted from Aitareya Upanishad the Maha Vakya (Great Sentence) that “Prjnanam Brahman” meaning “Consciousness / Awareness is Brahman”. This needs to be contemplated, intuited until one grasps it. Beyond Upanishads I as a mere mortal cannot say anything more. May be different kind of proof is several scholars who had gained the knowledge vouch for the truthfulness and correctness of the Upanishads.

    Using the energy metaphor helps one clearly understand the description of Brahman provided in the scriptures. It helps in clearly and completely understanding the theory which is called Viveka.

    For example Brahman is said to eternal, birthless and deathless. Physics says “Energy can neither be created nor be destroyed” meaning energy is eternal, birthless and deathless.

    Any energy such as heat or magnetic can neither be seen nor be touched. Brahman is also described as something that can neither be seen nor be touched.

    There cannot be two types of magnetic or electrical energies. There is only one electrical energy powering various devices. Upanishads say “Ekam eva Advitiyam Brahma” meaning Brahman is only one and there is no second. It is the same single Brahman powering all the beings.

    Brahman is said to be ineffable. IMO all the energies are ineffable. For example, try explaining the light energy in as many words to a person born blind and make that person understand and comprehend the light energy as well as we do.

    If we take TV its various parts such as picture tube, speakers, signal receiving unit, signal decoding unit, Wifi, etc. are all powered by the electrical energy. Upanishads say all our body organs such as eyes, ears, nose, heart, lungs, etc. including the mind are powered by Brahman. That’s why I personally feel using the electrical energy metaphor it helps one easily understand the description of Brahman without any doubts.

    Finally by using the word “Energy” I was not speculating. I quoted Svethashwatara (1.3) and Kaivalya (1.21) Upanishads where the word “Energy” has been used to describe Atman / Brahman.

    You said “I’m not sure what you mean by ‘realizing’ Atman”. Please try searching for “Self-Realization” in Google or in this website. Realizing Atman / Brahman is called Aparoksha Anubhuti meaning Direct Experience and that is the ultimate goal of Advaita.

    We are Awareness but we are not in Silent Awareness because the mind is incessantly engaged in thoughts and does not remain silent.

    Yes I meant existing *consciously* as Silent Awareness to realize the Maha Vakya “Prajnanam Brahman” which is “Consciousness / Awareness is Brahman”.

    For a moment, considering Atman as energy also helps one comprehend how to experience or realize it. Now our mind knows that energy cannot be objectified and it cannot be seen or touched. For example to experience or realize electrical energy we cannot interact with it directly. We need a device such as bulb or TV that can manifest electrical energy. In the same way Brahman is a Sentient or Conscious entity that cannot be objectified and it cannot be seen or touched. We need a device that can manifest this Conscious entity and that device is our mind. When the inert mind gets powered by Atman it gains its sentience and becomes Conscious. “Being” or “Existing” as the Pure Consciousness or Silent Awareness without being disturbed by any thought gives one the Direct Experience of Atman and is called Self-Realization.

    Regards
    Arun

  11. > I quoted from Aitareya Upanishad the Maha Vakya (Great Sentence) that “Prjnanam Brahman” meaning “Consciousness / Awareness is Brahman”. This needs to be contemplated, intuited until one grasps it.

    I understand. Thanks for the citation, I knew this Maha Vakya, but didn’t know it was from the Aitareya Upanishad.

    > Using the energy metaphor helps one clearly understand the description of Brahman provided in the scriptures. It helps in clearly and completely understanding the theory which is called Viveka.

    > Finally by using the word “Energy” I was not speculating. I quoted Svethashwatara (1.3) and Kaivalya (1.21) Upanishads where the word “Energy” has been used to describe Atman / Brahman.

    What is the Sanskrit word used for energy in those Upanishads … prana? Thanks for your explanation, I see now why energy/electricity works so well for you as a pointer to brahman.

    > You said “I’m not sure what you mean by ‘realizing’ Atman”. Please try searching for “Self-Realization” in Google or in this website. Realizing Atman / Brahman is called Aparoksha Anubhuti meaning Direct Experience and that is the ultimate goal of Advaita.

    Thank you, I was not familiar with Aparoksha Anubhuti. I just purchased the book on Amazon. And I found several videos (two series, one 2-part and one 8-part) on Aparoksha Anubhuti from one of my favorite Vedanta teachers, Swami Sarvapriyananda.

    > We are Awareness but we are not in Silent Awareness because the mind is incessantly engaged in thoughts and does not remain silent.

    Aha, I understand.

    > “Being” or “Existing” as the Pure Consciousness or Silent Awareness without being disturbed by any thought gives one the Direct Experience of Atman and is called Self-Realization.

    What is the relationship between this state and samadhi?

  12. Hi Rick,

    I am glad you purchased the book and found several videos from Swami Sarvapriyananda. He is also my favourite teacher and he is also quoted by many in this website.

    Samadhi is a concept of Patanjali Yoga and is not advocated by Advaita. Samadhi is almost like deep sleep state but the Samadhi is entered into during the waking state where one is completely absorbed into oneself to such an extent where the person is not aware of the surroundings and is not even aware of one’s own existence during that period.

    On the other hand the Self-Realization of Advaita is the state where one is constantly aware that “I am That” and when not required to do any thinking, one effortlessly remains in Silent Awareness without any thoughts. If you observe the thoughts they are always Self-Centered and are due to one’s ego. A realized person does not have any ego and hence selfish or Self-Centered thoughts do not bother him, does not feel elated when somebody praises him and does not feel bad when somebody insults him.

    The sanskrit word for Energy is NOT Prana. It is Shakti. I had mentioned it in my earlier comments. I shall repeat it again here. Svethashwatara Upanishad (1.3) uses the word Atma Shakti. Kaivalya Upanishad (1.21) uses the word Achintya Shakti (Incomprehensible Energy).

    You are in quest of the Absolute Truth. First let us try to define what Absolute Truth means.

    According to me the Absolute Truth should remain the same at all times and should be unchanging for ever.

    If you agree to the above definition then Advaita says identify That within you that has never changed ever since you were born and start identifying the word “I” with that unchanging entity which is the Absolute Truth and the ultimate Reality.

    We can continue with the current identification of “I” which is “I am Rick”, “I am Arun”, etc. to transact with this world which is called Vyavaharika Satya. But once realized one would be constantly aware that “I am That” no matter what activity one is indulged in.

    I am extremely thankful to you for engaging me in this conversation because it has allowed me to express some most important concepts of Advaita in a very simple manner that could be grasped by the modern mind with modern education. That is one of the main reasons for my usage of the word “Energy”. Whether one takes it as a metaphor or literally it does not matter. How does it matter whether we use a ladder or a rope or stairs to climb towards the goal. Once the goal is attained the means is useless and could be discarded.

    So if you find some of the points expressed here are useful and understandable then I am sure it would appeal in the same way to many others and future readers who might stumble upon this web page.

    Regards
    Arun

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