Now therefore the description of Brahman: not this, not this

From Shankara’s commentary on Gaudapada’s Karika (from Sw Nikhilananda’s translation):

II.32: “Though Atman is by nature pure and non-dual, yet It is not aware of Its true nature on account of such obstacles as the notions [Venkat: thoughts?] of happiness, unhappiness, corporeality, etc superimposed by ignorance. The purpose of scripture is to remove these illusory notions; thus it serves a negative purpose. This is accomplished when scriptures describe Atman as neti, neti. Thus dissociating from Atman such adjectives as happy or unhappy, which would make It an object, scripture indirectly helps to establish It as the eternal subject. The negation of attributes reveals the real nature of Atman”

II.36: “As non-duality, on account of its being the negation of all evils, is bliss and fearlessness, therefore knowing it to be such, direct your mind to the realisation of the on-dual Atman”

Note here that Gaudapa and Shankara, both differentiate between knowledge of what Atman is (which has been defined as negation of all notions, rather than any positive knowledge) and its realisation.

Then there is Shankara’s commentary on Brhadaranyaka Upanishad II.iv.12 (from Sw Madhavananda’s translation):

“That separate existence of yours, which has sprung up from the delusion engendered by contact with the limiting adjuncts of the body and organs, enters its cause, the great Reality, the Supreme Self, which stands for the ocean . . .  When that separate existence has entered and merged in its cause, in other words, when the differences created by ignorance are gone, the universe becomes one without a second.”

“These elements, transformed into the body, organs and sense-objects, from which the self comes out as an individual . . . are merged like rivers in the ocean, by the realisation of Brahman through the instruction of the scriptures and the teacher, and are destroyed. And when they are destroyed like the foams and bubbles of water, this individualised existence too is destroyed with them . . . After attaining (this oneness) the self, freed from the body and organs, has no more particular consciousness . . . How can the knower of Brahman, who is established in his nature as Pure Intelligence, possibly have any such particular consciousness? Even when a man is in the body, particular consciousness is sometimes impossible (e.g. as in deep sleep); so how can it ever exist in a man who has been absolutely freed from the body and organs? So said Yajnavalkya – propounded this philosophy of the highest truth to his wife, Maitreyi”

Note in the latter part of this quote the absence of ‘particular consciousness” being described in similar terms to the absence of objects/perceptions/thoughts in deep sleep.

Would welcome thoughts from traditional vedantins on your interpretation of this vis a vis the previous discussion on jnana being simply knowledge that is gained by a mind, rather than dissolution of all knowledge.

10 thoughts on “Now therefore the description of Brahman: not this, not this

  1. Venkat,

    Let’s just say you receive a reply to your questions that clearly address and answer your questions that you put at the end of your post. What then? Will that help you in any way other than having an intellectual grasp of what Vedanta says?

    If you are interested in being an academic, priest, or some scholar, knowing this stuff comes in handy if you want to talk or teach it. Other than that, you’ve got nothing. Nothing has changed fundamentally. Questions and answers, on and on. More memorization, etc. Time for the Roshi’s stick to fall on your shoulders. Katsu!

  2. The junkie is aware that he needs to stop feeding himself what is addicting him. When does he decide that he wants to stop?

  3. Good point, Anonymous!

    But does Junkie’s decision-making matter at all when Roshi’s stick will hit the shoulder or head?

    [P.S.: I sent an e-mail to you. Didn’t get a response from you – Bernardette’s book.]

  4. Ramesam,

    My email is masked and will not reach me. You will have to give me yours and I will send it.

    Don’t know the answer to the question.

  5. When traditional Advaita talks about the gaining of Self-knowledge, it ought perhaps pedantically be saying that it is the removal or loss of Self-ignorance. We already are brahman but mistakenly take ourselves to be something else. When we shine a torch on what we take to be a snake, we realize that it was a rope all the time. When we shine the light of scriptures on our taking ourselves to be body-minds, we realize that we were Atman all the time.

    We do not become enlightened in deep sleep, even though the mind is inactive. Similarly, those who experience ‘loss of mind’ in samAdhi ‘regain’ it as soon as they come out of the trance’ So there is more to it than that. Since brahman is attributeless, it is not possible to gain positive knowledge of it from teachers. But it is also not the case that we do not ‘know’ what brahman is, since we ARE brahman. What is needed is to remove all the false notions that we have about it and then the effective ‘Knowledge’ stands revealed.

    K2.32 is not about the status of a j~nAnI or about enlightenment or minds; it is a statement made as if from the vantage point of absolute reality. It is probably the most important verse in the entire work and the most uncompromising statement in the whole of Advaita: “There is no birth or death (creation or dissolution); no one is bound, striving to become free, or already liberated. This is the ultimate truth.”

    • AH!
      This is how we get caught in a cobweb we weave for ourselves!

      What the unambiguous dictum of GK II-32 so clearly implies is that it is a fancy even to say, “What is needed is to remove all the false notions that we have about it …….”

      There are no false notions. Whatever-IS, as it is, simply IS.
      End of the story.


      P.S: The story seems to be (LOL): struggle – traditional Advaita – despise the likes of Tony – search for Gaudapada — join shoulders with Tonys!!!


      And Ha Ha Ha,

      The way you put it that you mask your own e-mail from yourself sounds like a replay of Dennis narration of brahman masking from Itself and going in search of hits by a club!

      So I am hitting within public glare:

  6. I have never said anything other than this. Neo-Advaitins are quite correct in their absolutist statements – and Gaudapada was saying it 1300 years earlier. ‘This is it’ if you like. The point is that such statements are of no value to the seeker whose current position is that the world is real. You have to start from where you are in terms of understanding. And where we all start from is ‘false notions’.

    Our perceptual/conceptual experience is always from the standpoint of vyavahAra – even when ‘enlightened’. The problem for the seeker is how to make the intuitive leap to a vyAvahArika understanding of paramArtha.

    Incidentally, I will be writing an article for publication in Watkins ‘Mind Body Spirit’ magazine next Spring. Irrespective of the actual title, the essence will be: ‘Gaudapada – the first neo-Advaitin’. LOL

    (Incidentally, I have never ‘despised’ the likes of Tony, merely pointed out that their ‘non-teaching’ does not really help the seeker.)

  7. Dear Dennis,

    Agreed. The point you make is well taken.
    Maybe I should make it explicit.
    I used “the likes of Tonys” as a synecdoche for the “neo-Advaita teaching” and not to point to any person.

    2. And, of course, we debated several times in the past — The ‘vyAvahArika’ (empirical) vs. pAramArthika’ (the Absolute).

    The point that stands out, once again, in the GK II-32 is that this notional division into ‘
    ‘vyA….’ and ‘pAra….’ is adhyAropa (superimposition) and apavAda (sublation) respectively and the division is only a teaching ‘device.’

    There is no higher Truth than “What-IS” means, whatever we call as vyA…. is itself the Truth — neha nAnAsti kincana (there is no multiplicity whatsoever here – kaTha and Briha). ‘Whatsoever here’ points to the awake world the seeker is in. It is equivalent to ‘Back to the market’ in the Zen teaching.

    3. Taking up from what you said at another thread and hinted here about ‘Enlightenment,’ permit me to say that, IMHO, Enlightenment is the realization of not having a ‘separate self’ as a ‘me’ and also not claiming ownership for the body. It means the sense of ‘separate self’ is dissolved. Therefore, Enlightenment does not mean that the ‘sense of separate self in me’ continues with the additional knowledge that ‘Now I know that the “I” is fictitious.’ We debated this also many times earlier.


  8. Dear Ramesam,

    I agree – ALL teaching is adhyAropa – apavAda, simply because it is not possible to say anything at all about brahman. The same actually applies to all of this discussion about ‘what is enlightenment’ and about whether or not there is still a sense of separate self. As Gaudapada and Shankara say (K2.4-5), if you can experience it, it is not real.

    Best wishes,

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