Non-dual Reality – Q. 328

Q: Can one ever KNOW that reality is non-dual?

A (Ramesam):

(i)   YES, The moment you can grasp tight your reflection in the mirror!!! 
(ii)  No, you cannot know it like you know the salary you get.

(iii) Yes, you cannot ever NOT know it; what all IS, is your perception alone.
(iv)  No, if you place yourself aloof trying to know it as a distant object.

(v)  Yes, you know It in your deep sleep.
(vi)  No, if you want to measure and compare to duality.

(vii)  Yes, when you are in “zone”, (the Flow of Mihaly Csikszentsmihalyi).
(viii)  No, if you keep your ID as a separate individual.

(ix)   Yes in the fulfillment of your love.
(x)   No, if you want to possess it as a property (asset).

(xi)  Yes, in your ‘Awe’ on noticing something “beautiful.”
(xii)  No, the moment you recognize and identify it with a name/form.

(xiii)  Yes, when you dissolve your identity.
(xiv)  No, if your egoistic personality persists.

&c   &c  &c

A (Sitara): Upanishads say that it is impossible to know – referring to our usual way of knowing anything as object. As non-dual reality cannot be an object of knowledge (because it includes the knower and the knowledge), it obviously cannot be known (in that way).

 Upanishads in a different context say that it is possible to know. The whole teaching of Advaita Vedanta is based on the fact that it can be known. How do we resolve this apparent contradiction?

 Knowing is the reality (consciousness) together with vritti (thought). Buddhi can know and the thought that recognizes the fact that reality is non-dual is the thought that ends duality for good for the one to who it occurs. As this is the last vritti of the individual, on its resolution, only consciousness remains.

 Consciousness without vritti is not knowledge. That’s why Upanishads also say that it is impossible to know (see above).

A (Meenakshi): Meenakshi has written a two-part blog on this subject at Advaita Academy – see—Part-1.ashx/

A (Dhanya): Busy at present but she has a related essay at

A (Dennis): Since we are brahman and there is only brahman, it follows that we must already be ‘experiencing’ non-duality. As is sometimes said, we already are enlightened; we just don’t know it! (Although, strictly speaking, enlightenment is the final ‘knowing’ that this is so.) We have the experience but miss the meaning, as T. S. Eliot said. Furthermore, because we are brahman, we do not really need to ‘gain’ this knowledge; rather we have to remove the ignorance that prevents us from seeing that it is already the case. When enlightenment happens, it is direct and immediate; there is no longer any question of doubt.

According to the Mandukya, we have the direct experience of non-duality in the deep-sleep state. But we mistakenly place all of the value on the other two states of waking and dreaming, in both of which we experience duality. But both of these are mithyA; waking is empirically objective and dream is subjective only. We mistakenly believe that the waking state is the real one and that the non-dual ‘experience’ of deep sleep is irrelevant.

We cannot ‘know’ brahman in the way that we know a fact, as something objectively defined. We ‘know’ it by virtue of ‘being’ it. But, to begin with, we are ignorant of our true nature so that words are needed to ‘show us the way’. Straight descriptions are not available. Even obvious concepts such as ‘sweetness’ cannot be described – they are known by direct experience. But if I give you some sugar and ask you to taste it, there is no longer any need to describe it; I can simply say that the quality of that taste *is* sweetness. brahman is not an experience in this sense but we can still use words, whose meanings we understand, to point to that which is not itself an experience. Thus, for example, we know the difference between ‘real’ and ‘unreal’ from everyday experience – the chair on which I am sitting is real and the face that I see in the pattern on the carpet is unreal. ‘sat’ also means ‘real, existing, true’. brahman, being the only reality, clearly must be real and existent, even though we do not know it in any objective sense.

The ‘right’ words can trigger direct understanding because we are already brahman. The classic example that I often tell people about is called bhAga tyAga lakShaNa and it is so expressive that it is worth reading again, even if you are already familiar with it:

The enlightenment ‘event’ (akhaNDAkAra vRRitti) is effectively a catastrophic reorientation of the mind (in the mathematical sense of course, rather than the emotive!)  As the teaching is heard, knowledge ‘vRRitti-s’ are acquired (mental modifications) and there may be ‘mini’ realizations in response to particular revelations. In the final revelation, the akhaNDAkAra vRRitti, the mind ‘takes on the form’ of the ‘undivided’ reality. The light bulb metaphor is a good one for the knowledge vRRitti-s. The removal of ignorance may be gradual but enlightenment is binary.

So the answer to the question is: Yes you can know. Gaining this knowledge is what is called ‘enlightenment’. And you go about getting it by listening to the unfoldment of the scriptures by a qualified teacher, who will use the methods described above. This is called shravaNa. Then you ask questions to clarify and answer your doubts. This is called manana. Then you go over all of this again in your mind, read more about it, go to talks, discuss and write about it. Eventually, however long it may take, you will ‘get it’.

(You can also read my essay on enlightenment.)

9 thoughts on “Non-dual Reality – Q. 328

  1. On this question, this knowledge, Shankara wrote: “It is uncovered, revealed with difficulty, the knowledge of the supreme Reality being a rarity… not easily to be understood, though spoken of by the Upanishads and the teachers in various ways” (Ma. Ka. B., lV. 82-84).

    Elsewhere he wrote: “… we have to make no more effort to acquire knowledge of Brahman as He is quite self-evident. Though thus quite self-evident, easily knowable, quite near, and forming the very Self, Brahman appears – to the unenlightened, to those whose reason (buddhi) is carried away by the differential phenomena of names and forms created by avidya – as unknown, difficult to know, very remote, as though He were a separate thing. But to those whose reason (buddhi) has turned away from external phenomena, who have secured the grace of the Guru and attained the serenity of the self (manas), there is nothing else so blissful, so well known, so easily knowable and quite so near as Brahman.” (Bh. G., lX.2). The key, then, is “cessation of the perception of the differentiated forms of the external world”. A unitary vision.

  2. Useful quotes, thank you! (Remembering that ‘self-evident’ is not at all the same as ‘objectively knowable’.)

    Where is your last quote from (“cessation of the perception of the differentiated forms of the external world”)? This will never happen. As long as we are in a body, the senses will perceive duality. That is the nature of the empirical world. The j~nAnI, too, sees duality. The difference is that he/she knows it is mithyA and that its substrate is non-dual brahman.

  3. With pleasure. It is from Bh.G.B., XVIII. 50. A more complete quotation is as follow : (“… for those… duly initiated etc.) it is quite impossible to believe in the reality of the dual – the perceiver and the perceived – of our external perception, because they perceive no reality other than consciousness of the Self… Wherefore it is only a cessation of the perception of the differentiated forms of the external world that can lead to a firm grasp of the real nature of the Self. For the Self is not a thing unknown to anybody at any time… ”

    Source: THE ROOTS OF VEDANTA. Selections from Shankara’s Writings, 2012 – pp. 182-83 (Penguin Classics)

  4. Thank you! I still feel that maybe the words used in the translation could give the wrong impression to some. I suspect that the Shankara quotation to which you are referring is: “nAmarUpAdi anAtma adhyAropaNa nivRRittiH eva kAryA na Atma chaitanya vij~nAnam” and the key word is adhyAropa. He is not saying that the perception has to cease. As I said, we see what we see and we will continue to see duality whether enlightened or not.What he is saying is that the mental superimposition has to cease. I.e. we still see the dualistic world but we know that it is just name and form of brahman. Just as we still see the sunrise and sunset but know that the earth is rotating on its axis.

  5. Quote: “….. we will continue to see duality whether enlightened or not….”

    I am entering this debate rather haltingly. I am not sure I should, for there is a great danger of being misunderstood. Still anyway, here is what comes to me:

    Anything said in this context can be controversial.
    Or rather, nothing meaningful can be said without using words which can be branded ‘egoistic.’ Otherwise one can just make ‘politically correct’ statements which will be tasteless.

    Crossing the above caveats:

    It looks to me that to say that one continues to see duality after (so called) ‘enlightenment’ is self-contradicting.

    Enlightenment is the END of duality. Once the understanding happens beyond ‘intellectual level’ (as Dr. K. Sadananda often quotes JK – Understanding as a fact not understanding as a thought), it is an IRREVERSIBLE happening.
    So ‘adhyAropa’ too ends.

    What happens after enlightenment is, the judgmental faculty (ahankara) of likes-dislikes, acceptables-rejectables etc. ceases. Thoughts and counter thoughts (manas) continues to function, but there is no claimant to those thoughts (as “my thoughts). Hence ownership and doership also terminate. The Jnani functions without a conscious awareness of a ‘me’, though (s)he may use first person pronouns in day to day work (eating, moving) — activities that just happen like heart beat, ocean wave, earth rotation – without conscious volition and effort or even awareness of those things happening on his part.

    So he does not see duality — all things just keep happening in him, around him but he is not conscious as a perceiver, doer etc. He is a Seer (drik) without anything to see (that is another definition for Jnani). There is total ‘padArtha abhAvana’ – non-differentiation of objects. In fact, as Rupert said once (perhaps at, the differentiation of experience into auditory, tactile, gustatory, ophthalmic and olfactory components will also be absent and only an inexpressible Oneness of experiencing remains – experiencing by no ‘one.’ The sum and substance is that the Jnani does not feel he is there present as the ‘seer’ and something is being ‘seen.’ So no duality for him. There is no conscious separate individual anymore (for) within him.

    That is why our ancients divided the functioning of the ‘mind’ into four faculties in order to be able to explain the ‘happening’ as a process. I think it is DRg DRisya viveka which talks about when the origination of a separate ‘me’ takes place. It happens not with ‘mind’ in general but with the faculty of likes-dislikes coming into place. These are the ‘stains’ (due to vasanas — another explanatory artifact) that mind is said to acquire. Without these ‘mind’ by itself is Pure and is Consciousness + vinration – like breeze and wind – no difference, no dnager.

    I am not sure I could express clearly. Maybe, I can clarify if questions are raised or write a separate article.

  6. Two typos in one sentence:

    The sentence : “Consciousness + vinration – like breeze and wind – no difference, no dnager.” should read as:

    Consciousness + vibration – like breeze and wind – no difference, no danger (with such a Pure mind).

    Maybe I should mention two metaphors that our scriptures use to explain the things.
    For mind:
    Like a stream and turbulence together still water only. (Leaving the Physics and Hydrodynamics) the turbulence is not considered external to and is not different from the stream.

    For Jnani’s actions:
    The Jnani’s actions are compared to that of an infant drinking milk from its mother in sleep. It just drinks the milk, unaware (action happens, hunger appeased), the baby is awake to drinking the milk but asleep for all the rest of things and blissfully continues its sleep fully after drinking.
    Sankara talks of ‘Yoganidra’ (Deep sleep with Awareness) as the highest form of Yoga a seeker attains and goes ecstatic in describing it. The actions of a Jivanmukta are like that infant drinking milk in sleep.

  7. With due respect to Rupert, Ramesam, you cannot cite him as an authority on traditional Advaita. The position I am taking represents my own view and that of Swami Dayananda and disciples, which sampradAya I consider to be the most authoritative in existence today. Similar discussions have taken place on the Advaitin group a number of times. with several people expressing your viewpoint vociferously! Despite this, I remain as convinced as ever that what I have stated is correct.

    I would like to invite the views of the other bloggers but, since all of them are influenced to a greater or lesser extent by Swami Dayananda, I believe they would support what I have said. (Also, Peter and Dhanya are probably not available at present.)

    • Following your invitation to comment, Dennis, and leaving aside my own viewpoint as regards the jnani’s perspective, I would like to say the following: I would consider it a great loss if we can argue merely along the lines of Swami Dayananda and what he has defined to be the sampradaya. Even if most of us agree on the validity of his viewpoint I welcome including the views of non-traditional sources – if they are labelled as such. In fact I would be most interested to read about Rupert Spira in the view of someone as well versed in traditional Vedanta as Ramesam is.

      I have repeatedly stated that I would like for all the bloggers to give a proper bio so that readers know exactly were someone is coming from. Also just lately I found that in blogs, reviews and comments the term “Advaita” has been frequently used almost as a synonym to “Traditional Advaita Vedanta”. They are NOT the same. Advaita includes the traditional view but, as pointed out in many ways on the “about”-page, it includes ‘an array of voices’. Point 4 says: ‘By way of orientation, we present a who’s who of teachers and how they relate to the various lineages. This is to give visitors a context for their preferred approach and teacher. No preference or judgment is intended here – we respect the intelligence and sincerity of seekers.’

      So proper labelling for me seems to be the crucial point here. It should be clear that if not stated otherwise the views presented on this site can be considered to be traditional Advaita Vedanta according to Swami Dayananda and his disciples. (even the term ‘traditional Advaita Vedanta’ does not suffice, because there are quite a few who claim this for themselves and who Swami Dayananda would not consider to be traditional Advaita Vedanta).

      So if we want to be unambiguous and not confuse uninformed readers we need to either clarify who a teacher we refer to is or point the reader to the lineages page of the site. It should also be possible for a blogger to present his very own (advaitic) view but again he/she has to point that out explicitly.

  8. I agree entirely with what you say, Sitara; I definitely do not want to discourage other views. In fact, Rupert offered to write some stuff for us a few months back and I told him we would very much like him to do so. (I will have to send a polite reminder!) And I also do not want us to become known for propagating only the views of Swami Dayananda. Also, I definitely encourage comments with contrary viewpoints.

    (As an example, see the recent discussion on chidAbhAsa between Peter and myself. Peter was clearly putting forward what he believed to be the position of the Swami D sampradAya but I still argued against what he was saying.)

    Basically, I believe that we all have the responsibility (to ourselves as well as to others) to argue against statements that we believe to be wrong. But any such arguments should ideally be backed by some authority. (Note that Peter and I both cited scriptural quotations in the chidAbhAsa discussion.) It is only through means such as this that we can clarify points for everyone.

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